It looks like we’ve hit winter around here. The ground is frozen and our work now moves indoors, although I just got garlic planted extremely late this week. I had to ask our garlic suppliers about what to do and they suggested planting right into soil mix on top of the ground. This way, the plants will come up in the spring and we can replant like green onions once they ground thaws…if we didn’t do this, the garlic would be bust next year, especially the hardneck varieties.
We are at the end of the season. Reflecting on things, I think we’ve really turned a corner. This is our fifth season vegetable farming on our own, and up to this point each season seemed like a huge battle. I typically get all anxious and stressed by July and completely burnt out by mid-September, but not this year. I think this has happened because we’ve let past seasons get ahead of us, so we’ve played a lot of catch up, which is very frustrating because in vegetable farming you never catch up. We have gotten into the catch-up game because we’ve not had the equipment, set-up, or general organization to stay on top of things in the past. One example is cultivation, where you mechanically kill weeds by tilling the soil. In past seasons, we ended up doing a lot of hand weeding or cultivation with a wheel hoe because the weeds got too tall or we simply didn’t have the cultivation equipment set up in time or on-hand. This year, we cultivated most plantings twice at the right time, so we had a lot more time to spend on other things which needed attention. Add this to all the other little improvements we’ve been making over the years, and that’s why I say we’ve really turned a corner from a farm start-up with all the problems that entails, to a somewhat established farm, where, as long as you keep up with a routine day-in and day-out, the season works out.
Other accomplishments have been building and starting up the farm stand and getting into a few new crops like dried flowers, a new mix of winter squash, and some oddities like broom corn, daikon, and some new heirlooms. A lot of the fun of what we do is trying new things. Some are good, and some are terrible, so we keep the best for next season and drop the rest. We also try new techniques to improve how we do things. Like this year I rigged up a new way of trellising where I use a big spool of twine set in a school backpack to make the task go quicker and with less frustration. We also used some remay cover cloths more to keep out bugs and get a crop to grow better, which made a real difference. Also this is the first year we’ve successfully used a cover crop of rye and vetch, so we’ll see what difference that makes on the fertility of field next year. Like vegetable varieties, we keep what works and keep fine-tuning production.
Lastly, thank you so much for being members this season! We cannot do what we do without you. Certainly the fee you pay keeps us in business, but the support we hear and receive from you means a lot. It’s extremely helpful to know that we are part of a community.
We’ve had a couple of events recently at the farm, which is out of the ordinary for Maree and me. Typically it’s rare for us to have visitors besides our families, so it was great to have the harvest party last Sunday and equally cool to host the early childhood kids tonight (Thursday). We had a good number of people out for the harvest party—if you were unable to make it, please stop by and I’ll re-give the tour and you can pick a pumpkin. Too often farming is such a solitary existence where you grow something for people you will never meet. I had such a good feeling to see “our” community gathered together in our machine shed, just eating good food and enjoying others company. Special thanks to member Ruth Sollie for the picture!
Tonight was a different, although equally rewarding experience. We hosted the early childhood classes in Pelican Rapids, which annually do a “pumpkin patch” outing for 1-5 year olds and their parents. I had been working like a dog since 8 am trying to pull in as much produce as possible since I expect a frost tomorrow morning and I was a bit in a daze when I watched car after car after car pull into our driveway. This thing was bigger than I expected. And, with about 40 little kids running around, it was a real whirlwind event. I took everybody on a hayride to the pumpkin patch in the front field and there were so many that I had to take two trips. On the hayride it was a lot of fun to stop and quiz the kids about the different vegetables. Going with my theme about connection, like the harvest party, I found the event really rewarding. I figured this may be one of those few times when kids can really get on a farm and learn about where their food comes from. We need kids to connect with farms if we expect younger generations to know of anything other than Taco Bell, Cheetos, or Coke.
As we approach the end of the season, we start playing the good/bad crop game. When you’re cleaning up a bed of one crop at the end of the year, you can’t help but judge how the year went. So, kind of like the Oscars for vegetables, we have the good, the bad, and the ugly for the year.
• Peppers: Hey I was just in the entryway where we have a few bushels of peppers and I can still smell them…great. Now that a number are turning colors, these clearly go into the good category. Not only did we have a lot, but they were a good size too…last year the Italias looked like big jalapelos or something.
• Salad mix: I’m finally getting the hand of growing this stuff well. We should have had a second planting for mid-season, but the stuff we put in the box looked great.
• Spring brassicas: this is the cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, and cauliflower at the beginning of the season. The cool wet spring worked well for these crops. What was most impressive is how long the spring bassica season lasted…you probably got sick of broccoli or cabbage at some point there!
• Tomatoes: a surprise here. Although it has taken forever for them to ripen, the plants set a lot of fruit and they look in good shape.
• Garlic: A real disappointment because I just go crazy for a good garlic crop. These plants do not grow well in a mud puddle like they had to this season.
• Green onions: This is in the bad category because it was the crop that never happened…do you ever remember getting green onions? They got planted first thing in the spring but that entire patch got overrun with weeds and I never got another succession planted—you can also put cilantro in this camp too.
• Head lettuce: After last season when we had a bumper crop, the lettuce was worthless. The window of lettuce was short and a lot bolted before it came of size.
• Melons: There’s been a whole lot of ugliness here. The main factor is all of those cucumber beetles, who attack the plants and kill them off mid-season and then chew up the fruit if it starts to grow. Ugly.
• Second set of cucumbers: in part due to those pesky cucumber beetles and the new ground, this second planting put on nothing but deformed cukes. The timing was right to take over when the first planting pettered out, but they were too ugly to use.
All told, I can’t complain too much about the season. The weather was funny, but things still got produced and I know we improved on last year overall even if some crops did worse. Since you have to be optimistic in this line of work, what we do is ask ourselves how we can improve for next year.
It’s been a great growing week over the last five days or so. I always worry about those things which are planted, but just need some more heat and light to ripen and get ready for the box. Although a lot of those melons are still not ripe, at least the late corn seems to be coming along and you’ll see some this week. Also there are those “fall crops” which we plant in July or so which I’m always worried about…fall lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips, broccoli, and cabbage. I get worried because the fall can be so fickle; it can be so cold and wet that a lot of those crops just don’t finish in time and that just drives me crazy! We did all the work to bring the crop along, but mother nature just didn’t get the memo about our plan. This weather sure helps, so I expect some of those greens to make it next week, namely salad mix and arugula.
The other news I’m really excited about is the completion of the farm stand. It turned into one of those summer projects which had so many details that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it off. Kind of like an afghan or something you started…”boy, this is going to be nice, but I know I’m going to have to put in another 40 hours to finish it.” Kind of kills your motivation, especially if a bunch of other things are consuming your time.
Still, it was a bunch of work. My father-in-law and I had it all framed in late July, but I still had to level out a place to sit it on as well as put on the tin roof and back wall. You see, since we have one of those raised driveways, I had to dig in a retaining wall and fill in an area to make it somewhat level…otherwise the stand would have sat at a 45% angle—not good. Mar and I spend a couple nights this week collecting big rocks from our pasture and our neighbor’s land. Along the way we even had a medical emergency since Will got carried away with throwing rocks out of the wagon and beaned his sister with a rock the size of my fist…not cool! Anyway, at the end of the rock-hauling project, it was just me, a diesel tractor, a 700-pound farm stand on skids, and a few chains. When I get into these “farm engineering” projects, I just can’t help dreaming up scenarios where the farm stand is completely destroyed, the tractor starts on fire, or I’m fatally wounded. I had similar visions when we were moving the walk in cooler in the machine shed. Luckily, I dodged another bullet to tell you all about it.
Now that the stand is at the end of our driveway, we just need to put on some finishing touches like a sign and a lock box as well as get the word out (which may not be too hard since we had our first customer come by looking for produce 90 minutes after pulling it in place). But this is the easy and fun part and we’re sure to have things up and running by Sunday. Our plan is to have the stand open Friday-Sunday for sure.
The big news on the farm this week was the patchy frost which came in Tuesday morning. I was outside watching it make its way across the grass when I got up early to do some things before work. It’s tough to watch for me, of course, because I’m deluding myself in thinking it’s still summer…which it’s not. It was only a matter of time till it came, but it always gets me mad anyway. The great saving grace was that it had rained the day before, so plants and veggies were wet enough that the damage was minimal. What happened is that the cold temperatures put a very thin protective coating of ice on the fruit instead of the frost directly, which leaves the fruit undamaged. It’s a curious thing…why wouldn’t the ice damage the fruit? I don’t know, but I’m glad it happened that way. Basically we lost the tops of some eggplant plants which sat in the lowest part of our fields, which is no big deal at all.
Otherwise, the other big news is that Sylvia went to her first day of school ever on Wednesday. Granted it’s only preschool, which lasts 3 hours of something, but it’s still a big step…maybe more so for the parents than Sylvie herself. Just another sign that summer is over. Oh well…