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This Week in Jewish Farming: Bring on the onions

by Ben Harris, JTA

August 15, 2014 | 12:13 pm

<em>Onions, Ben Harris</em>

Onions, Ben Harris

Earlier this week, Fred and I went out to the field with five green harvest bins and came back with this:

Yes, those are onions. Lots of them. Grown by the same guy who, back in March, was nearly in tears when his onions were slow to germinate in the still-frigid temperatures and he feared the whole thing would amount to nothing.

Well, they certainly amounted to something. Our best performer was an heirloom called Ailsa Craig introduced by a British gardener in the 19th century and named for an island off the Scottish coast. Ailsas are known for their freakish size. Ours aren’t State Fair material, but they’re more than ample.

As for the rest of them, well, lets just say it wasn’t the bumper crop I had hoped for. Many are small and puny, too unimpressive to inspire a buyer at the market and too pathetic to give to CSA members. Others disappeared entirely. Despite seeding hundreds of shallots back in the spring, we found nary a shallot in sight. And getting to this point was a fight – two rounds of seeding, a late planting, endless battles with weeds and desperate applications of nitrogen fertilizer in an effort to get them to grow faster.

In the end, we got a crop. Not the crop I had dreamed of, but a crop still.

I’d love to say that the moral of this story is not to worry. That things work out as they should. That nature has a way of taking care of things. That if you put some seeds in the ground with love, a little water, sunshine and fertilizer will do the rest. It’s a lovely idea, and it’s total bullshit.

Perhaps if I lived in the Salinas Valley or the Nile River Delta, some hearty seeds and good vibes are all I would need. But one of the things I’ve learned this year is that growing vegetables isn’t really that hard. Growing exceptional vegetables and not killing yourself in the process – that takes skill.

Earlier in the summer, I spent several weeks fretting over my Lacinato kale. Farmers love kale — it’s a vigorous producer, tolerant of weather extremes and ultra trendy. My kale was OK, but it wasn’t spectacular. The leaves were smallish, their color was on the pale side, and they lacked those deep reptilian grooves. What killed me was I had no idea why.

I imagine there will come a day when I’ll be able to diagnose a problem like that on sight. Till then, I’ll still worry – over onions and everything else. And knowing me, probably then too.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.

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