Friday, August 03, 2012
Farm Bulletin: Costata Romanesco, aka Zucchini
Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm informs us of a heretofore obscure chronicle, authored by some extremely wayward ancient Greeks, that was unearthed on an obscure piece of property in the Wapato Valley of Oregon.
As summer progresses, the matter of the zucchini's fecundity comes to the fore. Newspapers and magazines regale us with the travails of home gardeners who try to foist the excess on neighbors and friends. All manner of recipes are proposed to deal with the burden. So why are people who don't garden, and should be grateful for the generosity of the plant and its owner, so resistant to the gift?
"Shame on the wastrel," the human chorus cries. "Wasting food is a sin against nature! The cultivator has brought this food forth from the earth, and you counsel denying others the pleasure of eating it!"
"Hush," the farmer responds. "We are not alone here. We tend and harvest crops in joint effort with other creatures upon this earth, and it is they who have toiled and earned the surfeit."
The chorus of the field flora and fauna reply, "Yes gentle farmer, leave us the latter day squash. Let them ripen in the field and we will build a great and tilth-full soil. It is merely a silly, self-centered conceit that if humans do not use it, there is waste."
As this exchange from Ayersini's translation of Carolystra and Antonocoles (the respected Gastonian Folio) stresses, we farm in consort with billions of other organisms, nothing goes to waste when left in the field.
Once the harvest has ceased, zucchini plants continue to grow, the fruits ripen and set seed. The mature fruits are between two and three feet long, and their ribs turn a deep golden-orange. During this time, they also produce substantial amounts of fibrous woody stem that will contribute organic matter to the soil. All winter long, the tops provide a shelter for a range of insects, spiders and small mammals, a village of life. Birds forage among the decaying remains. Beneath the ground, there is a deep tap root and and a more extensive fibrous root system that maintain the tilth of the soil through the winter idyl, and providing food for the creatures that live there. To every extent possible, we leave our cornstalks, tomato plants, squash and bean vines and other crops standing in the field through the winter. In our experience, the instinct to cleanup does more harm than good. No better job for a spent plant than to leave it in place to protect and improve the fertility of the garden. Think of it as a deferred meal. The unkempt garden will serve you well.