This Week at Market: The Flavors of Spring

Spring it still is, even though today marks the start of our “summer” farmer’s market, the McMinnville Farmer’s Market.  Farmer’s growing in hoop houses or on black plastic can nudge the season ahead a bit, but with the long lasting springs we have been having last year and this, even our friends who use these growing tools more extensively than we do will most likely still be offering “spring” produce as we start the market season today.  Baby beets, large spring onions, turnips…these are crops a week or two away for us, but have been ready for the last month from other farm’s at our Saturday market.

Otherwise, the main crops that spring offers in abundance are greens, greens, and more greens!

Some, of the lettuce variety.  In fact, there is always so  much lettuce at the market’s at this time of year that we no longer worry about growing too much head lettuce to bring.  Instead we focus on our salad mix, many a local’s favorite and one of our signature offerings.  Right now, we especially love the mix which includes not only baby lettuces in a wide variety, but young greens as well as small brassica florets.  It is so beautiful and delicious!

All of our other greens fall more into the cooking greens category.  This week we are bringing a braising mix full of young greens, dandelion greens, nettles, baby kale mix, full size kale, and rainbow chard.  The color of spring for us is definitely green!

But saute a little green garlic, another spring treat that you really are only going to find at your local farmer’s market, perfectly light for spring cooking with its pleasantly mild garlic flavor, and add this to your cooking greens and you have everything you need–delicious!

But what is really exciting (even though it is equally depressing in some ways) is that we will also have spring rapini at this first market, and maybe for a while longer!  Because it has been so cool this spring, our brassica plants that we overwintered in the fields began to go to seed later than usual.  When these relatives of the ever popular broccoli go to seed, they produce equally edible florets that are yet another spring crop usually only offered by your local market farmer.  Similar to broccoli raab in appearance, but with each kind offering a unique flavor depending on which plant it comes from (turnip, kale, cabbage, etc), these are one of our spring favorites!  We wouldn’t normally have them at this time of year because their push to set seed would be stronger than our ability to harvest them if the weather were just a bit warmer.

But it isn’t really warm nor very summery yet, so relish these spring flavors we will!  They are just as yummy as the produce to come, and for those of you who might otherwise miss out on being able to shop from a farmer’s market when our Thursday market isn’t happening, what a treat for all of you!

Spring love matures (and so do the weeds)

As much as I knew it would come, being here at the end of the giddy stage of spring, when our farm (where landscaping has taken a second seat to things growing for the business) abruptly turns green after that splash of color, is still something like walking on uneven ground, that bumpy step a little jolting. Everywhere I look it is green, the green of grasses, mostly, and other weeds loving the warming up of the weather just as much as the rest of us. The fruit trees are done blooming, the spring bulbs and flowering trees too, even the early weeds have already blossomed and set seed (shudder). Thankfully we are able to leave the beautiful white and pink blooms of our winter arugula and black spanish radsishes along with the unmistakable yellow flowers of the mustards and turnips for a bit longer…the bees and my eyes need something colorful to feast on. But these blossoms too, begin to feel like weeds as they get in the way of working around new growing things.

As ambitious as early spring is with its newfound energy, the rising from winter’s slumber and slow going, the inevitable next step comes and its reality is not as flippant and full on as the sowing of a new year’s seeds. The season gets warmer, and the watering and weeding begin. That is what we did this weekend,; recovered beets and kohlrabi and carrots from the mat of other growth thinking it had found a nice place to grow too, freed some broccoli from the start of a dangerous relationship with the nasty bindweed, gave our bunching onions access to more light, and started on getting the grass out of the fava beans although their growth is vigorous enough to withstand sharing–we just don’t want the slugs having ladders to the pods which are now setting.

And this kind of work is more sobering than planting even when the sense of accomplishment is almost more fulfilling when you finish. Now our early spring love affair with a new season is tempered by what time brings. Just like any love affair, your vision at first is beautifully rose colored. Now that the first flush of petals have fallen, some of those irksome growing challenges are up for evaluation. There are still spots in the field where the difference in soil quality is fairly dramatic. There are still some broccolis buttoning (producing a small head before the plant matures because of stress from soil or heat?), still poor germination on our first planting of carrots, still flea beetles on the pac chois, and spotted cucumber beetles on the chard. Things are not picture perfect, for sure.

Still, the upshot is that we are seeing all of these things on a much smaller scale than ever before, and we can see that at least from the pest perspective, the plants are stronger than the damage they can do this year. Soon they will have outgrown the worst of it. Carrots are in the queue for succession plantings into July, and in truth the germination percentage on that first planting is close to 50% where we had 0% on our first planting last year (I suppose we are just pushing the envelope for carrots with that first planting anyways). We way, way, way overplanted broccolis because they are so fickle anyways. And at least after the main growing season comes to a close, we can clear this space and really work with it for soil improvement since we have a separate space for fall/winter plantings. That will make a world of difference.

So the season matures, we settle into its routines. We have the bulk of our spring planting done (which is why we took the last few days to weed, weed, weed). Most of the tomatoes, the eggplant, some more corn, and more basil…that is what is left besides things that are continually planted in succession. We won’t have another big planting push until July, so weeding and watering do become our main occupations, along with the all important harvesting! And even though all the early spring colors have turned to blankets of green over here, when we weeded the raspberries yesterday, our first year’s planting was vibrating with a steady bzzzzz! Many of those early flowers are working there way towards summer fruit, a feast of colors for the plate. And we planted all those annual flowers, a quick fix for more lavish blooms for us and cut flowers for all of you. And even the humble vegetable blooms that proceed the harvest are beautiful in their own right. It may be green right now, but just around the corner will be summer’s color show, one that holds steady and true into winter even though it doesn’t take our breath away quite like the first of spring.