Happy New Year and welcome to 2012! If you’ve been around for the last two weeks, you’ve probably been enjoying the warm, sunny — and dry — weather we’ve been having. Forecasters tell us that it is fairly common to have a spell of nice weather in January, but given that it comes after the 2nd driest December on record, concerns are mounting about a drought.
Here on the farm, the dry weather has been accompanied by very chilly nights — just a little too chilly. We had dozens of days in December where the low temperature was below 28, the point at which even cold-hardy plants sustain damage. Making matters worse was the dry north wind that sucks the moisture from the plants and makes them more vulnerable to freeze damage. More on this later. Suffice it to say that despite the farm being closed, we were busy irrigating all through our “‘vacation”. In fact, we started up the pumps again just after Thanksgiving and haven’t stopped watering since. Compare this to December 2010, when it rained almost every day.
It’s no fun irrigating in the winter. One of the best things are growing winter crops here — most years — is that they are naturally irrigated by rain. While this isn’t always convenient, it is less expensive and more sustainable than running pumps. Broccoli is one crop that is normally rainfed in the winter that we are irrigating right now.
One of the first questions many subscribers ask me about our farm is where we get our water from, and I am always happy to tell them about our local reservoir — Lake Berryessa — located just five miles away. The lake has never run dry, and never cut off water deliveries, even during the drought. This is due to our area’s average rainfall rate of 25 inches, compared to less than 5 inches for many parts of the Central Valley, which also keeps our groundwater levels high and makes pumping that water also fairly sustainable.
The next question usually comes pretty quickly: “Is your water subsidized”, and the answer is “Yes” for the water we get from Lake Berryessa. Farmers get a volume discount for water they buy from the federal government. But this week I learned from an article in the N.Y. Times that our subsidy for water pales compared that enjoyed by the city of San Francisco and other municipalities in the Bay Area. It turns out the rate they pay for water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir has not changed since 1913. This is particularly galling given that the amount is a lump sum — $30,000 annually! — and not based on usage, which has presumably gone up dramatically in a hundred years. A Congressman from a Central Valley district where farmers have seen their water rates jump dramatically is now demanding that the urban rate be adjusted for inflation. While this is a highly political move that probably has little chance of success, it’s a good reminder that in California, no one has the moral high ground when water issues are discussed — except maybe the fish.
Rain is back in the forecast for next week, and before we know it the talk may be of flooding instead of drought.
What do I do with it: Asian Pears
It seems that some people are still befuddled when they get Asian Pears from us in their CSA boxes. And it’s true that many of us did not grow up eating them the way we did apples and oranges. Meanwhile, to others, they are one of the most prized fruits available.
Asian Pears are a regular part of our CSA boxes from September through January. We have a fairly large block of trees in the orchard that includes our Cherries and Persimmons, with several varieties in it. In general, the pears grow extremely well here, producing larger and more reliable crops than our apple trees. We begin harvest in July and continue through September, and we store the fruit into January when there is little other fruit available. Owing to people’s lack of familiarity with them, we only put them in the boxes once every three weeks or so.
Around this time of year, you may notice the skin on the pears starts to shrivel a bit; this does not affect the eating quality of the fruit.
Asian Pears are almost always eaten fresh; I have never seen a recipe in which they are cooked, but if you’ve created a good one, I’d like to hear about it. Unlike regular pears, they are supposed to be eaten crisp, not allowed to become soft first (although they will soften if you leave them outside the fridge for long enough). Their juicy crispness also makes them perfect for salads, sliced thinly and combined with greens, nuts, and tangy cheese. They absorb the vinagrette without losing their crunch.
In Your Boxes
It got a little too cold and dry around here in late December for some of the vegetables growing in our fields, and we are seeing damage to items including kale, fennel and chard. We will keep you posted.
Escarole just barely escaped complete destruction. We have gone through what was a beautiful field and salvaged what remained. Some of the leaves on the head of escarole you receive may be “tip burned”, meaning the tips of a few of the leaves may have turned brown. While we don’t normally send you compromised produce, we feel that this is cosmetic damage that is easily trimmed off, leaving the majority of the vegetable 100% useable. Other than the tip burn, the escarole is beautiful: mild and fully blanched. You can use it in a salad, but taste it first — it is not a lettuce, but a chicory, so it has a slightly bitter flavor. Alternately, you can saute it with garlic and lemon juice. Non-vegetarians can add a tablespoon of bacon for a smoky edge.
If you love Beet Greens, you’ve probably noticed their absence in your boxes lately. They can’t seem to get a break this year. Between getting chewed on by bugs, shredded by the wind, and freeze damaged, they just keep getting damaged. Not seriously enough to kill them — they are tough plants — but badly enough that we would never bother making bunches to send you. Luckily, the damage has all been above ground and somehow the roots have kept growing. We’re not sure when we might ever have bunched beets again, but we had plenty of loose ones for your boxes this week, as well as for the next month or longer.