It is the morning of the season’s first harvest, and I think I am prepared. I’ve got two Wwoofers as crew, and we’ve got knives, a sharpener, colanders, buckets, harvest crates, a cooler, plastic bags and old sheets for moisture and shade. I set Katie and Jack up cutting the larger, bottom leaves of the orach plants. (Also called mountain spinach, this variety of orach has magenta leaves and can be eaten raw or cooked like a leafy green.) In the meantime, I struggle with a slightly broken beach umbrella to try to provide shade for our improvised wash station, which consists of buckets on the ground and crates in a wheelbarrow. I cut the leaves and stems of hon tsai, a Chinese flowering broccoli, while they cut the bottom leaves of the chrysanthemum, which can be eaten raw and taste like a chrysanthemum flower smells. Everything gets dunked in clean buckets of cool water in the shade, and then stored in crates under wet sheets to stay cool and dry a bit before being bagged.
If you’re lucky, sometimes you get to reap more than you sow.
That’s when I realize I don’t have the size bags that I wanted and have to run to the IGA to get some. When I get back, I focus on washing and bagging, while Katie and Jack harvest lambsquarter out of a row where I’d sown another Asian green that germinated poorly. Also known as quelites or wild spinach, lambsquarter is a common agricultural weed that can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, and it’s one of my favorites. (A former coworker and I affectionately called it LQ for short.) Sauteed with garlic and butter, it has the earthy taste of the spinach in spanakopita. Growing, its top leaves often have a shimmery pink or orange dusting. I actually have seeds for a cultivated variety called jeweled lambsquarter, which I just haven’t gotten in the ground yet. I also have seeds for purslane, dandelion and chickweed, more common agricultural weeds that we have been steadily uprooting from the field (every day, all day, it feels like). Sometimes we at least feed them to the chickens, but every time I pull one up, I considering saving it to eat or leaving it to harvest later.
Despite trying to sharpen them, my knives weren’t as sharp as they should be, and Katie nicked her finger harvesting, which I was not prepared for. Luckily, The Farm Beyond had a bandage, and we managed to finish the harvest and get set up at the farm stand just in time. (Now I have bandages in my truck, so next time I will be prepared, at least for that!)
I think tomorrow’s harvest will include orach, calendula flowers, maybe some snow peas, and the last of the hon tsai. Oh, and maybe some mint, savory and cilantro. But we’ll see, depending on time and my inclination, I may not be able to resist throwing in some especially pretty purslane, chickweed or lambsquarter. If you’re lucky, sometimes you get to reap more than you sow.