by Norm Budnitz
Or perhaps more appropriately, rotation, rotation, rotation.
Closely related plants tend to be susceptible to similar diseases and insect pests. For example, the caterpillars that eat cabbages are quite happy to gnaw away at cauliflower as well. Both of these crops are members of the mustard family (the Brassicaceae, for the vowel lovers among you), along with kale, broccoli, kohl-rabi, Brussels sprouts, collards, turnips, and radishes.
The fungus-like organism (Phytophthora infestans, for you consonant lovers) that causes ‘late blight’ was responsible for destroying the potato harvest in Ireland in the 1840s, resulting in part in the Great Irish Famine. That same organism attacked tomato plants in the eastern US a couple of years ago. Potatoes and tomatoes, along with peppers and eggplants, are members of the nightshade family, the Solanaceae. But so are belladonna (aka deadly nightshade), jimson weed, mandrake, and a number of other plants that produce some chemicals that can be quite toxic to humans. Tobacco is also in this family. I’ll let you decide into which group to put it.
Here at Four Leaf Farm, we grow lots of crops from both of these families. And there is a third family well-represented in our gardens as well, the Cucurbitaceae—squashes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, gourds, and even luffas.
It is good farming practice to move these crops around in our gardens, so that no member of a given family grows in the same spot where another member of that family just finished growing. For example, it is not a good idea to grow tomatoes in a section of the garden where we have just dug potatoes. Or if we have grown squash in one section this year, next year we will grow them in another section. In other words, we ‘rotate’ our crop families.
So here’s a puzzle for you. On Norm’s land, we cultivate 4 plots of garden space (about 1/8 acre each). We mostly grow members of the 3 families described above (cabbage relatives, squash relatives, and tomato relatives). The cabbage family crops like cool weather, so we grow them in one whole section in the spring and in a different whole section in the fall (never in the same section). Potatoes like it cool, too, so they get a whole section to themselves in the spring as well. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants like it hot, so they go in for the summer, one whole section, but not where potatoes have grown recently. Squash do their own thing, get a whole section in the summer, and they can follow either of the other two families.
Three families. Three seasons. Four sections. How would you set up the rotation? Oh, and by the way, we also squeeze in a couple of rows of other crops, too—okra (mallow family, along with cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus), edamame or green soybeans (legume family, along with peas and other beans), and sweet corn (a grass, like wheat and oats). And if we have some time between plantings, we put in a cover crop like buckwheat or ryegrass.
So how would you set up the rotation? I dare you to try.
[FUN WITH WORDS. For those of you who like to read out loud in your heads, you may be wondering how to pronounce the ‘-aceae’ ending on those family names. Here’s one way: a (as in ‘hay’), suh (as in ‘yes, suh’), ee (as in ‘seed’). “Yes, suh. I’m a hay seed, suh.” ‘aceae’—a suh ee. Try it. You’ll like it. Try the names above. Then try these: Chenopodiaceae (the ‘ch’ has a ‘k’ sound, these are things like beets, chard, and spinach); Scrophulariaceae (snapdragons); and my personal favorite, Bignoniaceae (trumpet vine).]
by Zach Schreiber
2 cups dices raw potatoes (red or russet)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks washed and chopped into 1/2 inch rounds
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 ¾ cups of cream or sour cream or a mix of both
3 pieces of crispy bacon
1. Boil potatoes in salted water until soft, then drain.
2. Sauté leeks in butter on medium heat until soft.
3. Combine remaining ingredients with potatoes and leeks and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Garnish with chopped bacon or some delicious Pea Shoot Pesto (see recipe below).
Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Pea Shoot Pesto
2 packed cups pea shoots (from Four Leaf Farm, of course)
¼ cup mint leaves (we’ve got these too)
¼ cup pecans
3 medium cloves of garlic
1 ½ lime, juiced
1 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup grated parmesan
Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy.
Tempura Squash Blossoms
For the Tempura batter combine:
1 cup flour
1 cup ice cold club soda
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Heat vegetable fryer oil to 375 F (2 inches of oil if using cast iron pan).
2. Dredge blossoms in tempura batter and fry until lightly browned (about 3 minutes) turning after 1-1.5 minutes.
by Greg Midgette
Well, the leaves can be quite bitter and may be an acquired taste for some but are extremely nutritious, being high in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron. They’re also low
in calories, fat and cholesterol, and are a natural diuretic. You can reduce some of the bitterness by first parboiling them in boiling water for a couple of minutes before making
your favorite recipe. One way we like to use dandelion greens is in the following recipe, it is rustic, country cooking at it’s best.
Sautéed Dandelion Greens with Garlicky Croutons and Parmesan Cheese
1 large bunch of Dandelion Greens
¼ cup good quality Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic
1 small onion (chopped)
2 slices Stale Country style bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
3 Tbs. chopped Italian Parsley
Salt & Pepper
Dash of Red Pepper Flakes
1. In a heavy frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, one garlic clove minced, and the
2. Cook the croutons, stirring often until they are lightly browned and crisp.
3. Remove from the heat, set aside, refraining from eating all of these delicious cubes before
they hit the sautéed greens, which we will do next.
4. Rinse the greens well, remove any tough stems (if you purchased these greens from
someone other than Four Leaf Farm, we, of course, will never sell you old, overgrown
tough stems). Cut into 3 inch pieces. Dunk the greens in boiling water for just a couple
of minutes – NO more. Remove from the water, placing them in a colander to run cold
water over them to stop the cooking.
5. In that same heavy frying pan you used for the croutons, add the onion and remaining
olive oil and sauté for a couple of minutes until the onions are just beginning to sweat
and take on some browning and then add the last 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped) and the
6. Sauté this mix for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat - salt & pepper to taste and add the
red pepper flakes to your desired level of heat.
7. Add the croutons and either shaved or shredded Parmesan Cheese, mix everything together and prepare to be swept away with this amazing dish.
by Greg Midgette
2 cups Greek Yogurt
1 cup Lemon or Lime Basil (from your garden plants sold by Four Leaf Farm)
½ cup sugar (more to preference)
1 cup whipping cream
1. Place basil and sugar in a blender and mix until the two are completely incorporated,
about a minute.
2. Add Greek yogurt and whipping cream and mix briefly, just a couple of
seconds to bring all ingredients together.
3. Pour mixture into an ice cream freezer and freeze according to freezer’s directions.
Serve immediately or freeze up to 1 month.
by Norm Budnitz
Red Thumb, Red Gold, Yukon Gold, French Fingerling, Purple Peruvian, Austrian Crescent, Kipfel. These are some of the potato varieties we are growing this year. And what a joy that is.
Each winter, Tim and Helga go through the seed potato catalogue and pick and choose the varieties we will grow. We have our standbys, but Tim almost always gets tempted by something new like Purple Majesty or Purple Viking.
Come spring, as soon as the soil is dry enough to till, we prepare the beds. The seed potatoes (actual potatoes, not seeds) are cut into pieces with one to several eyes in each piece. After the cut edge has had time to ‘heal’ for a day or so, these pieces are planted. Dig a hole, drop in a potato piece. Dig the next hole putting that dirt in the first hole, drop in the next piece. Again and again and again. This year we planted ten 100-foot rows.
After a couple of weeks, the first sprouts appear. These sprouts are a bit tender, so if frost is predicted, we go down the rows with a hoe and cover each sprout with dirt. Once the soil warms and days become springtime mild, the plants take off. They have coarse, dark green leaves, and they are pretty tough. Colorado potato beetles can wreak havoc, but that’s about it for insect pests in North Carolina. An organic insecticide called spinosad can keep them under control—harmless to humans, lethal to beetle grubs.
Sometime in late May or June, flowers start to appear on the plants. Flowering coincides with the growth of the tubers underground. The little baby potatoes form on and along special underground stems (not roots) called stolons. And now the fun begins.
First of all, Helga’s mouth begins to water. Helga is Danish, and potatoes and Danes go extremely well together. Next comes the exploratory digging. When the flowers have gone by and a plant looks big and bushy, it’s time to get out the digging fork to test the output. If the potatoes are still small, no harm. Helga will still be happy with these delicious morsels. But if they are big and full, it’s time to go at it. And here’s the surprise part of surprising spuds. Digging potatoes is like digging for treasure. There is simply nothing quite like loosening the soil, turning out a big healthy potato plant, and finding a veritable treasure trove of spuds.
White ones, red ones, gold ones, purple ones. Round ones, oblong ones, finger-shaped ones. Large, medium, and small. Oh, so good. Some will look ‘normal,’ but some will simply make us laugh. They will have ‘legs’ or ‘arms’ or ‘heads’ on bulbous bodies. Some will be long and skinny and some will be round and plump. Some will get pierced by the fork and will be greeted with cries of anguish followed by murmurs of inner joy. The staff gets to eat those.
Freshly dug spuds are a treat that grocery store shoppers rarely have access to. Their skins are papery thin and delicate—no need to peel them. Their flesh may be melt-in-your-mouth soft with a hint of sweetness or firm, waxy, buttery, even after cooking, perfect for potato salad. All will have that wonderful potato flavor that is just mouth-wateringly special. A surprising, special, springtime treasure, indeed.