Tomatoes, Spinach, and Polenta

We had some small tomatoes from the garden to use up. Debbie found this recipe and it was incredibly delicious.


What you’ll need

A nice bunch of small tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are great, golf ball sized ones are good too. If they’re bigger just cut them in half.
Olive oil
Fresh herbs
About 6 cloves of garlic
A big bunch of spinach
A cup of polenta
About 4 oz of soft goat cheese

How to do it

Heat the oven to 425. Line a baking pan with parchment paper (or not, you’ll just have to scrub the pan)
Put the tomatoes in the pan and drizzle with olive oil, roll them around to coat on all sides
Toss in some fresh herbs if you have them, sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and oregano are all nice.
A few cloves of garlic are nice too. Leave the papery husks on.

Cook for 20 minutes or so, toss and cook a bit more.
Remove from the oven.
When they’ve cooled remove the herb sprigs, squeeze the garlic out over the tomatoes, and give them a rough chop.

Finely chop, or even mince, 3 cloves of garlic.
Add some olive oil to a big pan and simmer the garlic over very low heat. Don’t brown it, just poach it in the oil.
In the meantime take a nice big bunch of spinach and remove the stems and roughly chop it.
Put the spinach in with the garlic and cook until the spinach is wilted.
Remove the spinach from the pan and season the spinach with salt to taste.

Add 3 cups water to the pan and bring it to a boil.
Add a cup of polenta and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Cook, stirring often, until it’s creamy.
Add 4 oz of goat cheese, a soft fresh one. Any cheese you like will be splendid.
Stir until the cheese is melted.
Give it a nice seasoning with pepper.

Serve by putting a big dollop of polenta on a plate, then topping with spinach, then with the tomatoes.

You may have noted at this point that in the picture my tomatoes aren’t chopped, and neither is the spinach. And the spinach has its stems. I didn’t chop the tomatoes or the spinach or remove the stems, but it would’ve been so much better if I had.

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Lessons not learned

I broke my cell phone on Monday. I was rassling the straw spreader off the combine and the cell phone lost a battle with the large chunk of iron that is the straw spreader.

After a long wet spring and a long wet summer, we’re finally in the wheat fields. No time to deal with the mind-boggling incompetency that is our modern wireless industry to get my phone replaced. So I’ve been 5 days without a cell phone [1] now.

Surprisingly the world has continued to turn.

I’ve missed the convenience of being constantly connected. Today Tom came roaring across the field on the ATV to tell me what the mechanic said about fixing the sprayer, unable to call me and tell me. Although that was more of an inconvenience for Tom than me.

And it was my birthday this week, so I didn’t receive a single birthday greeting via phone. That was kind of sad. [2]

But I haven’t missed the constant interruptions. It’s wheat harvest and I’ve spent hour after hour in the combine, totally uninterrupted. It was serene. [3]

The wheat is harvested. Going to get a replacement for my broken phone tomorrow.

Guess I didn’t learn a thing these last 5 days.

1. Or a landline either.

2. I try not to think about that as far as I can tell, I only missed a single birthday greeting via phone.

3. The A/C failed after half a day, so it was also mind-bogglingly hot. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

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It’s just common sense

According to Herman Daly, an early pioneer in the sustainability movement, sustainability means three things:

1) For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration;

2) for pollution, the rates of waste generation should not exceed the assimilation capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal) and

3) for nonrenewable resources, the depletion of the nonrenewable resources (that is, fossil fuels) should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource.

Achieving such sustainability will enable the Earth to continue to support life. Thus, teaching sustainability is common sense. It is our responsibility; it is not a “plot” to brainwash students.

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Turtle Days

This is the week of Turtle Days in Churubusco. Back in the 1940’s a farmer in the Churubusco area said he saw a turtle the size of “the roof of a car” in a small lake on his farm. Despite heroic efforts, including trying to pump the lake dry, the turtle was never found. The legend lives on and we celebrate it to this day.

So it’s appropriate as I working in the fields this week that I came across a huge snapping turtle laying eggs.

Momma Turtle
Momma Turtle

It’s hard to tell scale from this picture, but she’s the size of a watermelon. I was putting nitrogen on a corn field right along Blue River when I came across her.

Fortunately I happened to be looking to the left and saw her, because she was right where I would’ve hit her with the front tire of the tractor and then with one of the rear duals.

I slammed to a stop and looked at her. Nothing to do about it. I couldn’t move her, no way am I trying to move a snapping turtle with my bare hands. So I cranked the steering wheel, ran over some corn, and jogged around her.

If you know me, you know nothing grieves me more than to run over corn I’ve planted.

I hope momma turtle appreciated it.

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You Never Know

We were out shooting a tile line today that crossed properties owned by 3 different people. Everyone whose land the tile is on is agreeing to fix it [1].

Our tile contractor brings his dog along on the these jobs. Another farmer whose land this tile crosses and I were helping shoot the tile line, mainly by watching the dog [2] run around and griping about the weather.

And then my neighbor said, “We had to have our dog put down last night.”

“Aw, geez, I’m sorry,” I said.

And he told me about their dog, how he was old and sick, and they’d been to vet and then late last night to the emergency vet clinic. And that the dog was a rescue and they’d had him for 7 years.

Then he blinked and looked over the fields and said, “It’s sad.”

Our families have farmed side by side for over 60 years that I know of, and I realized I hardly knew him, and I wished that I knew him better.

1. Other neighbors whose land drains into this tile, but the tile doesn’t actually cross their land, are choosing not help repair it. So the 3 of us will pay 5 figures each to fix it, and they’ll get a free ride. What you gonna do?

2. Leon. A Springer Spaniel. He’s a Good Dog.

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We Must Kill Every Bug

Two years ago at the National No-Till Conference an entomologist named Jon Lundgren got up to give his talk and launched into this incredible reenactment of a fascist dictator, complete with pounding on the lectern [1], shouting, “we must kill every bug!”

It was vastly entertaining, and of course his point was the exact opposite. Trying to kill every bug is a terrible decision. If we spray a field with insecticides we not only kill the pests we’re to trying to rid of, we also kill all the beneficial bugs in the fields. We destroy the natural balance in the field and open it to attack by other bugs.

We try to avoid using insecticides on our fields. I was out walking in our wheat fields this week and saw this.


Everywhere I looked in the wheat field I saw ladybugs and crickets, and wild bees [2], feeding on the wheat pollen. Ladybugs, despite being so cute and so cutely named, are actually vicious predators, devouring aphids and other bad bugs. Likewise with crickets. These bugs, the beneficials, keep the bad bugs in check. If we sprayed our fields with insecticides we’d kill these good bugs too.

The chemical companies push us to apply insecticides. “It’s inexpensive”, they say, “apply them as insurance against a potential insect outbreak.”

I prefer to let the ladybugs do it for me.

1. I’m 57 years old and I just recently learned the difference between a podium and a lectern. And I took Latin in high school too. Sorry Mrs. Hontz, I should’ve paid more attention.

2. The wild bees are tiny and I wasn’t able to get a good photo of them. I’m not better as a photographer than I was as a Latin scholar [3]

3. From the Latin scholaris, “of a school”

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Planting Soybeans

We were planting soybeans today into a field with a beautiful cover crop of cereal rye. We planted the rye last fall. It grows until winter sets in, then goes dormant and begins to grow again in the spring. By late May the rye is 4 feet tall. The rye keeps the soil from eroding and takes up nutrients from the soil. When we plant the rye dies and returns those nutrients to the soybeans.


We just plant right into the living rye. The rye roots make the soil crumbly and soft, perfect for planting.

This side of the field has been planted.


And this side hasn’t been planted.

Not Planted
Not Planted

That’s what we’re after, to disturb the soil as little as possible. Walking over the planted field it just looks like we drove over the rye and knocked it down. But if you dig in the soil [1] you’ll find soybeans an inch deep in loose crumbly soil.

Running over the rye kills most of it, a very light application of herbicide will finish off the rest. Dead rye is straw, the same thing you’d use to mulch grass seed when you plant a new lawn. It serves the same purpose in our fields, as mulch it holds moisture and smothers the weeds.

Ray Archuleta, a government conservationist, says, “A tilled field is naked, thirsty, and running a fever.” When you till a field you leave it bare to erosion from wind and water, you dry it out, and you burn up the organic matter in the soil.

Planting into a field of rye is planting into a field that is healthy and bursting with life. And clothed:

“Consider the lilies of the field … even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

It’s that beautiful.

1. As I do, obsessively.

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Good Karma

I blasting home with the planter, well, blasting is an exaggeration, on our county roads that’s 0 to 12 mph as we navigate the potholes and half-hearted road repairs.

Anyway, blasting along and I came over a hill and there was a turtle in the road!

Turtle in the Road!
Turtle in the Road!

Our planter tractor has terrible brakes but I got it stopped in time. The turtle stopped too. We had a standoff.

I looked at the turtle and I looked at the tractor. The tractor is dualled up, 4 tires across, each 18 inches wide. I was pulling our drill, which has 4 flotation tires across the back, each of them over a foot wide and not lined up with the tractor duals. No way was I going to be able to proceed and not hit the turtle with one of those tires.

I looked behind to make sure no one was barreling down the road and about to get a surprise when they came over the hill. The drill is over 20 feet wide and blocks the entire road. The way was clear, I hopped out of the tractor and picked up the turtle and carried him across the road. He was not grateful.

I was feeling grateful though as I headed home. Grateful that I didn’t smash a turtle. Grateful that one of my neighbors didn’t smash me while I was stopped on the blind side of a hill. Good karma.

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Eating Locally

This morning I went to the opening day for the Columbia City Farmer’s Market. I came home with greens, ramps, miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, and a loaf of crusty bread. Tonight I whipped that into an almost entirely locally grown meal.

Salad with Smoked Duck

I had a whole Maple Leaf Farms duck in the freezer. I thawed that out and smoked it in the Jay Rosswurm Big Stone Cooking Area with some cherry logs cut from our farm.

I made that all into a salad topped with an orange vinaigrette. The oranges were probably picked by slaves and trucked 1,500 miles. I should’ve used the apple cider vinegar I made.

Oh well, it was tasty all the same. The duck was rich, fat, and smoky, the greens were bitter and fresh, the ramps pungent, and the vinaigrette cut it all with its sharp and bright acid.

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Pink Moon

There’s a pink moon rising over Skunk Hill tonight.

Pink Moon
Pink Moon
Pink Moon
by Nick Drake

I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all
It’s a pink moon, yeah, pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon
I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all
It’s a pink moon, yeah, pink moon

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