Stories from Field Notes Farm – Wanted: Unused Roomba in need of a good home
Growing up, my summer vacations were occupied in the depths of my “design studio” (i.e. our basement’s ping-pong table) with leftover cardboard boxes, scissors, and some glue the prototype of many a useful games and devices were brought to reality. After a few improved models, the best of creations would be crafted to a working scale and wrapped for one of my parents under the Christmas tree. Many of my creations, it turns out, were already being invented, patented, and produced on some scale (tennis ball picker-upper).
Fast forward a few years to my summer vacations at Lawrence University. For 2 years, I worked as part of the crew managing the ¼ acre garden and orchard on the university campus (affectionately known as SLUG). With a tight budget and a hodge-podge of resources, a small, discrete solution was often necessary to take care of problems that arose. A pile of scrap wood, a garage sale treasure chest of hardware, and a few key power tools rekindled my imagi-neer spirit. As we raged a continuous battle against Canadian Thistle, there was many hours of brainstorming the next solution for minimizing our effort on grueling tasks (compost turning, compost sifting, thistle removal) or improving the function of plant management (trellising, fencing out Appleton’s rabbit population and our woodchuck neighbor). Our proudest creation that worked – but not quite to human efficiency — the bicycle-powered compost sifter!
Some of my friends were kind enough to point out my stubborn nature to re-create items and processes that are tried and true (the best knot to tie a tomato trellis or why you shouldn’t cap a fermenting growler of cider). The practice of putting together the pieces is invaluable to my learning experience. And I can hardly regret the hilarious stories and friends that have been a part of all my successes and failures.
Farmers, I continue learn, are among a distinct guild of functional/frugal/practical imagi-neers. Problems arise that demand in-the-moment solutions (no time for a trip to Menards!) and need to hold up to the forces of nature — at least for this season. What’s more a winter season of reflection allows for many hours of research and proto-typing the answer to last season’s problem.
Technology continues to infiltrate and replace the human solution as agriculture processes grow to a gargantuan scale. Drones fly over crop fields to take record of water level, weed pressure, and plant health. Tractors align with GPS positioning to essentially auto-pilot themselves across the field. While these sound like adequate solutions,, they are hardly able to observe, reflect, and respond to the complex changes in nature.
We are not exempt from the technology here at Field Notes. Oren installed a wireless irrigation controller to automate our drip irrigation system. With a swipe of a finger on our cell phone or tablet, we can turn our water on/off.
So what is the next generation of solutions for farming?
- Google Goggles – where we can translate our planning spreadsheets to a visual overlay depicting what to plant when and how much for each plot.
- Drone harvesters – powerful enough to carry a full bin of zucchini up the hill for delivery at the cooler.
- Bicycle-powered hoophouse side cranks – it would be more enjoyable to bike open the sides than hand crank them.
- Lightweight hand extension – tall enough and flexible enough for me to put up our trellis system from the ground and harvest the tomatoes and peas at the top of the hoophouse
- Roomba for Weeds – It doesn’t have to move fast, but just set it on a course to cultivate the grass and lamb’s quarter for a bed at a time would be enough.
We have developed our own pile of scrap wood and collection of power tools. If you find yourself imagining, a solution to the world’s problems (big or small) – feel free to stop by!
PS Be sure to take a look at last week’s newsletter. We have received a few responses and still have room on the team.
Stuffed Summer Veg
2 green bell peppers, tops removed and seeded
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons freshly chopped garlic
2 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise
1 yellow squash, diced
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh greens
2 teaspoons freshly chopped tarragon/oregano leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, to finish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Wrap the peppers and zucchini in aluminum foil, and bake in the oven until tender, but not falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are golden brown. Add in the, yellow squash, wild rice, tomato, and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove from the heat and fold in the greens and the fresh herbs. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the cooled peppers.
Transfer the peppers/zucchini to a heat-proof serving dish and top with a little Parmesan. Bake until the peppers are heated through, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve
1 lb. carrots, grated
1 kohlrabi, grated
1 onion, thinly sliced or mandolined
¼ C olive oil
3 T. champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 T. dill, chopped
Salt to taste
Lay half cabbage down on its flat side. Cut in half again along its core. Chop thin slices across the other side into thin slices.
Toss onion, cabbage and carrot into a bowl.
Pour oil, vinegar, dill and salt into a jar. Cover and shake.
Dress salad and let sit for a few hours.
Cook’s Note: This recipe lends itself to what’s around. Try incorporating radishes, turnips, fennel or other.
Different vinegars and oils can also be substituted.,