In Praise of Mustard Greens

Yesterday I cooked a mess of mustard greens, my first of the year.  Greens straight from the garden are one of fall’s best treats and for most Southerners that means collards, turnip greens or mustard greens.

Like a lot of our great foods, it seems that these style greens entered the Southern diet through slave culture. Whatever their origin, they’ve been a staple here for a long time.

In our little slice of the South greens are called “salad” (or sallet).  When I was growing up, if you were asked if you wanted some salad, you were being asked if you wanted some turnip greens.  Even now, in our farm supply store the fall greens seeds (which now include kale and spinach) are in a section called “salad seed.”

Turnip greens were the only greens we ate when I was growing up.  I never even tasted collard greens until I moved to Florida as an adult.  When I was a boy, sometimes my mother would send me out to the “salad patch” with a grocery bag (a big paper sack) and instructions to “pick a mess.”  She’d cook them in a big pot, along with a big hunk of fat back.  I’d dowse mine in white vinegar.  Mmmm good.

I don’t recall eating any mustard greens as a child.  Lots of people around here mix them in with turnip greens for flavor so I may have eaten them that way.  In fact it’s common here to sow turnip and mustard greens together for that reason, and when you buy your seed at the store you can have them mix the two together for you if you like.

Back when I was growing up, “salad” was the only thing we planted for the fall.  Traditionally salad is planted on the first full moon in August.  The seed is broadcast and it’s best to mix it with some sand so that it broadcasts more evenly.

When I first started gardening after moving back home I planted turnip greens in mid-August and nothing else. Things have changed.  Now we plant dozens of things for the fall, most of which I had never heard of when I was a boy.  And for the last couple of years I haven’t even bothered planting any turnip greens or mustard greens.  There just wasn’t any interest in them from our customers.  The old days of having a salad patch on the farm are gone, it seems.  Instead of having a large garden of turnip greens we now grow a large garden of kale.

But this year I ran out of seed before running out of garden, so I planted some old mustard seed I had in the remaining space.  It’s coming up beautifully.

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We took a lot of it to the farmers market last week.  We sold out of every type of greens we had, except mustard greens.  We brought almost all of those back home.  In fact, the unwanted leftover greens from the market are what I cooked yesterday.

This week we put mustard greens on the menu we sent out to our customers.  We sold lots of Muruba Santoh, komatsuna and Yukina Savoy.  We sold out of bok choy and tatsoi.   But no one ordered any mustard greens.

Perhaps the glory days of the mustard green are behind it now.  But I’m happy to have had two big helpings of them yesterday and I’m glad to know there’s more where those came from.  I think from now on I’ll just plan on saving a little space for them in my gardens.

Fall Gardens and Foliage

Our weather has been spectacular lately.  It is forecast to take a turn for the worse soon, so we’re enjoying it while we can.

Our fall gardens went in late this year, but they’re starting to come in strong now.  Hopefully the weather will stay kind to them for a while.

Our Asian greens

Our Asian greens

More fall veggies

More fall veggies

Every year I try to capture the beauty of the trees in the fall and every year I fail.  Once again this year I can’t get a picture that does justice to them, but here are a few of my attempts.

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Hay, Factories and Factory Farms

Our wet summer has rewarded us with lush pastures and hayfields.  I don’t normally cut hay in the fall, preferring to allow the land to rest.  But we came up a little short in the spring so last Thursday I mowed one of our fields. Yesterday I raked and baled it.  It produced 3 1/2 times more hay than we got in the spring.  It’s good to have it in the barn.

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But before I could get it there we had to stop and go attend a meeting at our local Ag Center, which was promoting locating a Poultry Processing Complex in our county.  This complex would consist of a 200 acre processing facility at which 1.25 millions chickens would be slaughtered and processed every week, a 25-50 acre feed mill on a rail line to create feed from grain shipped in from the Midwest, and a 15 acre hatchery.  To produce the chickens there would be 550 industrial “poultry houses,” each of which would hold 20,000 birds or more at a time.

The meeting was conducted by a team of consultants who are supposedly preparing a feasibility study on the project. But they acknowledged that their job is to prepare a report that would be used to attract a poultry company, not to do an unbiased, objective analysis of feasibility.

We attended and spoke against the project of course.  The meeting was sparsely attended and I doubt anything we said will make a difference.  It was a foregone conclusion when these guys were hired that they will conclude that our community is a favorable location for factory farms and a massive chicken factory. Of course that is the exact opposite direction from where we believe agriculture should be going.  It is ultimately unsustainable and an eventual disaster on many levels.

After the meeting we returned home and with the help of a friend we got up hay until nearly 11 p.m. last night.

I can’t help feeling a little sad for my community today.  It’s a beautiful place and I dream of seeing it dotted with hundreds of diversified, sustainable farms, rather than factories and hundreds of chicken hells.

Now we have another fight ahead of us, and this time it seems we’ll have fewer allies.

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But nature has painted another beautiful autumn.  And we have plenty of hay in the barn for winter.

Cell Phones

We’ve all seen it.  It’s a common sight these days.  People looking at their smart phone screens in restaurants and while driving.  People pulling them out and looking at them while in the midst of a conversation.

As a society we’re becoming attached and addicted to the things and it seems we are inventing new ways to be rude to accompany our addiction.

Recently I read a blog post that was a nicely balanced look at this (read it HERE).

It seems to me that the problem is not with the devices, but with their users.  The solution to ill-mannered use of smart phones isn’t to banish them from the planet, but rather simply to behave when using them as we should behave when using any other device–that is, with good manners and common sense.

Sure there are forces working to keep our eyes glued to screens.  But those forces are not irresistible.

Sewing

I don’t know how to sew.  It’s one of many useful homesteading skills that I never learned.

Cherie, on the other hand, enjoys sewing and she’s been doing it since she was a girl.  In addition to whatever sewing needs doing around here she makes aprons and rice bags and sells them at the farmers market and craft shows.  Her work is beautiful and she has lots of happy customers.

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Cherie’s sewing room

Over the years I’ve worn holes into lots of pairs of blue jeans doing farm work.  Lately it occurred to me that rather than just using plain old patches to cover those holes, maybe I could find some of the kinds of patches we had our mother sew onto our jeans back in the early 70s.

peace sign

ecology flag

love

I wonder if Cherie would mind sewing them on for me?

 

Rowan and the Pigs

I forgot to latch the gate to the pigs’ pasture and they figured out how to open it. So for the second time this year they were able to join our goats and Rowan (the horse) in their pasture.

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It’s a pig jailbreak, into the forbidden pasture

The pigs seemed to enjoy the company of the other animals, but the feeling wasn’t mutual.  The goats were indifferent about their presence and Rowan was downright indignant.

When I discovered what had happened, Rowan was chasing them around and trying to bite their tails.  The pigs seemed to be regarding it as a game and they enjoyed playing.  Rowan was not amused.

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Rowan chasing a pig, while the other pigs trot along beside him joining in the fun.

Before the situation deteriorated further I was able to get the pigs back to their own pasture.  All it took was the sight of me with a bucket of feed and they galloped home joyfully.

This time I latched the gate and, for good measure, ran electricity to it.  After they push their wet noses into an electrified gate once, they never try to open it again.

Rowan is relieved to have them back where they belong.

SWATmania

This month’s ABA Journal reports that, on average, 124 American homes are raided every day by paramilitary SWAT teams.  While no doubt there is a story behind every one of those raids, I find it hard to believe that there are 124 daily situations in our country that necessitate SWAT team home invasions.  It seems likely to me that the number can be attributed, at least in part, to our culture having gone a little SWAT-happy.

I’m not expecting our door to be kicked in some night, but with the proliferation of SWAT teams these days it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The USDA now has its own SWAT team.  And if that seems crazy, consider the fact that the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NASA (among others) all have SWAT teams too now.  By any standards that should be considered weird.

For the past decade the good folks at DHS have been helping build little armies all over the country.  80% of small towns with populations of between 25 and 50 thousand now have SWAT teams, complete with automatic weapons, grenades, armored cars and all the latest military playthings.  And what’s the point of having all those toys if you never get to use them?

I reckon we’ll just need to be extra careful if we grow okra next year.

Dwayne Perry, of Cartersville, in northern Georgia, was extremely surprised this weekend to find a police helicopter hovering over the garden he tends during his retirement. He was even more surprised a few minutes later to find county deputies, with a drug-sniffing dog in tow, banging on his front door, insisting to inspect his small backyard garden.

The state task force dedicated to drug suppression had flown over his house and spied what they insisted were marijuana plants, growing brazenly in full view. Further examination — like, any examination, at all — showed that the plants in question were actually okra, the delightfully mucousy vegetable that’s been grown in the Southeast for centuries.

“Here I am, at home and retired and you know I do the right thing,” Perry said to local Atlanta station WSB-TV. “Then they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right.”

Indeed, it ain’t.

And that one probably doesn’t count as one of the daily 124, given the apparent absence of flash grenades, machine guns and night vision goggles. Police helicopters and deputies-in-the-daytime is old school.

Maybe Cartersville is one of the few places left that still doesn’t have a SWAT team.