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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A major find

A major find in the turnip patch

Rain is coming in three days and I dislike processing mud, so I have been crawling around in the polyculture beds with a three-tined hand rake, discovering potatoes and garlic, beets and turnips, and also picking any green bean or runner bean pods that have turned brown, or yellow, or even have the red speckles on them that mean they are thinking of turning yellow or brown.

The chickens appreciate all this, which they are sure is being done entirely for their benefit. They follow right behind my moccasins, scratching, pecking, chattering among themselves, getting had, and doing all the things chickens do. One of them tires of following and struts past me to hop up on the wheelbarrow, which is groaning with potatoes, and carries out an inspection -- but potatoes aren't really her thing. So she turns round and watches me inching past, feeling around in the old much for new spuds. I spook a mealy bug and she's on it, for all the world like a red-shouldered hawk on a white-footed mouse.

The geese regard themselves as above all this and have rucked out a goose gazebo under the grape vines. Legs folded beneath them, they sit in a patch of pale autumnal sunlight slanting in under the arbor, and with all the epicurean delight of a slow food aficionado, nibble at overripe grapes.

Last April, at the end of one of these multipurpose beds, I planted a section with bok choi, kale, and turnips instead of the potatoes or tomatoes, and came back through with beans as I did elsewhere. The beans didn't flourish as much here, and the greens got more sunlight than those I spotted into the potato patches. They needed, and got, more water than the others, and put on more weight accordingly -- that is, the turnips did. If we were fonder of turnips than we are, we'd think this a Really Good Thing, but to us it was more of just a Good Thing.

I like turnip greens, though I like spinach better, and I'm okay with mashed turnips, though I like potatoes better -- so it goes. Once I've had either the greens or the root for two or three meals, I seem to be done for the year ... meaning there was a whole lot more turnip than appetite, a situation known as Grossly Overplanting.

So we've mostly done two things with them: drying and stock feeding.

Drying has worked out really well. Whenever the solar dehydrator wasn't full of sliced tomatoes, zukes, pears, or apples, it had herbs and greens in it -- mostly turnip greens. They're done in two days -- in some of the weather we had this sumer, in less than one day. You take out the now-feather-light leaves, hold the end of a few stems in one hand, point the leaves at a cardboard box, strip away down the stems with the other hand, and the box starts filling with dried green flakes that are nutritious and tasty in soups, in breads, and on whatever. Today, for example, on homemade spaghetti sauce.

The birds will eat the greens when there's not much else on offer, meaning that right now, when they have the run of the whole garden, they are steering clear of the turnips.

If we had cows or pigs, the roots could be considered stock feed. But not for the likes of ducks and chickens. Well, maybe if we cooked them up. But we have enough squash and pumpkins to last them all winter, I think.

So, against my better judgment, I go over to the turnip bed and tug experimentally at a leaf. A champion among turnips rises from the earth and imprints on me.

"Mommy!"

Now what do I do?

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