Farmer John Writes: Coaxing Crops

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 10, August 21st – August 25th, 2018

Your Box This Week – Saturday Deliveries:
Please note: this summary is written before we pack your box—be aware that some guesswork is involved. Share contents often vary over the course of the week. And, as always, be sure to thoroughly wash all of your vegetables.

Fruiting Crops — Spaghetti Squash, Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers, Eggplant, Jalapeño or Serrano Peppers – hot! (in bag)

Salad Greens — Arugula, Lettuce

Alliums — Onion

Herbs Cilantro

Sign up for the Free CSA Meal Planning Service
Make sure you sign up for the Local Thyme CSA meal planning service we offer with your share. Local Thyme offers storage and handling tips and recipes customized to each week’s share. It has received many great reviews from our shareholders. Check out this sample recipe: Toasted Panzanella with White Beans and Arugula.

Here is a link to storage tips and recipes for tomatoes from the out-of-print Farmer John’s Cookbook:

Heirloom Tomatoes

With this week, we are now half way through the main season.

The Crops
Now that the melons and sweet corn are behind us, this week’s share will be abundant with tomatoes and refreshing greens. Soon to appear in your share—spaghetti squash and pie pumpkins.

Where There’s Not Smoke
Recently, a smoke alarm went off in the farm office, where there was no fire nor smoke. It wailed and wailed. I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t take out the battery—it seems the case was sealed. It had a pause switch, which didn’t make it pause. I banged on the alarm. It wailed. I shook it. It screamed. I ran water over it. It squawked. I put it in a bowl and filled the bowl to the brim with water. It kept squawking. I tipped the alarm over, re-submerging it. It gurgled squawks (or did it squawk gurgles?). I thought the government must have been involved in the design of this smoke alarm. They wanted to make sure that if my house was burning while it was submerged by a flood, I’d be alerted to the danger of the fire.

squawk, gurgle

3The Weeds this Year Are Like that Smoke Alarm
Like the smoke alarm, the weeds have been relentless this year. I have mentioned on occasion in this season’s newsletters that the weeds are bad. They are more than bad. They are the worst I have seen them in at least 25 years, notably the purslane and the quickweed. We seldom have much weed pressure in our crops. We have tools, crew, machines and systems that thwart and eradicate weeds in a normal year. I don’t know what happened this year—why the weeds are so bad, like 10, maybe 20 or even 30 times as bad as in a normal year…maybe 50 times as bad! Did the bio-chemistry of the soil change with last year’s flooding, followed by this year’s flooding, encouraging the growth of certain weeds? Did the pounding rain compact the soil, making certain weeds more likely to germinate? Was it because we couldn’t control the weeds last year, due to the flooding, and they went to seed? I don’t know.

This likely will seem like an exaggeration for you: when rain, heat and humidity are conducive, purslane and quickweed will double in size in 24 hours. They are the agricultural version a horror film.

I told the weeding crew one day that they should probably have waited until the next day to weed the purslane. The next day, the purslane was already too big to weed properly; it was at least twice as big as the day before.

We weeded our baby greens as soon as they emerged to get rid of the quickweed. The crew did a thorough job; the quickweed was nowhere to be seen right after the weeding. Ten days later, the quickweed had emerged from seed and was hovering over the baby greens; it was 5 to 6 inches tall. 

Quickweed will grow a foot tall in ten days to two weeks. Our lettuce transplants went into weed free, freshly tilled soil.

Within two weeks, the quickweed had created a dense canopy of shade high over the lettuce heads, making them spindly and ungiveable. 

This photo above is of a bed of spring turnips enveloped early in the season by quickweed. I only had so much labor to devote to weeding, so I had to decide which crops to save and which to abandon. Normally, a bed of spring turnips on our farm requires a weeding walk-through, just a few hours of hand work total, because the year before we would not have allowed weeds to go to seed in this bed, plus our seedbed preparation is designed to reduce weed pressure. This season, it would have cost at least $1000 in labor to save this bed, and while that bed was being saved, other beds of vegetables would have been lost to weeds.

I had never even heard of quickweed before this year. It is also known as galinsoga. Learn more about it at

I have on occasion included purslane in our CSA share. Because it created a carpet in some of our fields this year, choking out our vegetables, I had a hard time regarding it as culinary treasure. Purslane has the distinction that the more you till it, the more it spreads. Learn more about purslane here

I have taken great pride in our weed control program over the past couple of decades. Our fields have often looked post card perfect. This season, I am humbled. 

Next season, I will change up our rotation system to re-locate the more weed sensitive crops to areas of less weed pressure. I’ll add that sometimes, a weed that overwhelms a farm just ceases to be a problem. Foxtail was once such a weed on this farm many years ago, dominating the crops, and then it subsided, and has hardly been a problem since.

I wasn’t going to write about weeds. I’ve been encouraged to be positive, upbeat, in Farm News, more so than I’ve been encouraged to be transparent. Because the worst of the weeds is behind us, I feel I can share the weed drama now as more of a sensational story, a recent phenomenon of climate and weather and mystery, than as a current scourge. 

Water quieted the smoke alarm. Winter will come and quiet the weeds.

Something Else
Is there an upbeat message to be gleaned from this story of adversity? Yes. It is a miracle that we have been able to coax enough crops from the mud and the weeds to fill your boxes this season. Experience, dedication, crew, equipment, soil fertility, and resolve have combined to counter the adversity, and to provide you with vibrant, nutritious vegetables and herbs week after week.

Thank you for joining us in this great earthly journey, for relying on us, for trusting us to nurture you and your family. Let this story remind you that we are there for you, committed to subduing adversity in the fields, and to putting the best food possible on your table.

Angelic Organics Learning Center’s Harvest Moon Dinner 
Join Angelic Organics Learning Center for the Harvest Moon Dinner on Thursday, September 13th, as Chicago’s Theater on the Lake transforms into a magical urban farm oasis filled with freshly harvested food & cocktails, live music, and farm-fresh delights! The dinner features vegetables from Angelic Organics, together with plenty of entertainment, including dignitaries from our barnyard! All proceeds go to support the Learning Center’s education programs.  

Feel inspired?  Please consider attending the event, purchasing a sponsorship or ad, or sending a donation.  Buy your tickets today:

How to Have the Best Shareholder Experience
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Let Us Know
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More from Shareholders
Visit us often at, where we post exciting farm developments regularly, and shareholders post recipes, tips, and photos.

Farmer John


Angelic Organics Learning Center
After back to school season is over, treat your family to an experience away from the city with one of our fall programs for families! Stay at the new Angelic Organics Lodge, harvest food from the farm and enjoy fresh seasonal meals at Harvest Farm Camp for Families the weekend of October 6-7. Or come for a day of local pizza and beer with Prairie Street Brewing Company at Prairie on the Farm, Saturday, September 22nd. Parents will learn how to brew beer, and the Learning Center will take the kids to make pizza from scratch. See all of our upcoming events at

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  • Cindy Stear

    Thanks for the entertaining newsletter! Still chuckling. My home garden is thriving in weeds because I was out of the country for two weeks. I went to Japan, where they were having a record heat wave!

  • Barbara Holman

    Oh, purslane – THAT’s the weed that grows between my backyard bricks! Farmer John, the weeds have been positively awful this year – EVERYWHERE! We are all feeling for you as you battle them in much bigger batches than we are with our back yards. Take heart! We are “rooting” for you (they they WON’T root!).

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