Springtime Planting Gamble

Snow greeted me last Thursday as I sped down I-94 – SNOW! This experience gave me a little pause as I looked at our broccoli and cauliflower plants suffering in their trays, running out of fertility. Last weekend’s sunshine and warmth sealed the deal, however, and we planted all weekend in earnest. Nearly 800 broccoli plants and 400 lbs of potato seed joined kale, swiss chard, and cauliflower in the ground. Whether we see snow again or not, the field season’s begun and there’s no turning back.

Jon_Solinger_Photo_07569_August 29_ 2014-Edit

Friends often ask me considerate and caring questions this time of year about spring planing progress. I appreciate their interest, yet, I always need to confess that I both love and hate this time of year. It feels good to get started after the preparation mind game which is early spring. But getting something in the ground is only as satisfying as scratching an itch. I’m mostly anxious until all things are in. The sound of my neighbor’s tractors running all day and night as they plant seeds gives me a feeling like I should be doing more than I am. And if I miss a window of time before a rain I beat myself up for doing so.

But experience helps this time of year. This is year 15 at Lida Farm and I’ve seen all sorts of, shall-we-say “sub-optimal” spring planting activities. Potatoes planted in soil with a texture of small boulders. Tomatoes first in about June 14 in a very rainy spring. Cucumbers frozen out at the end of May. Even with these past mishaps the season carried on successfully. I remind myself no matter how late or poorly a planting season seems to go, rains still come and so does sunshine. Things get done, so take it easy.

Dead Chickens and a Half Completed Greenhouse

Well, a typical spring season so far. I wish the produce were growing better and further along-another cool spring isn’t helping matters. I’m behind on most things that need to get done and if it’s not one challenge it’s another.

Today’s Challenge
This morning as I sleepily went out to feed the laying hens like normal I noticed big piles of feathers all about the coop. Being the sleuth that I am, I followed the trail out into the pasture where I found not one, not two, but four dead chickens. Argghhh! Whatever came in last night wasn’t even courteous enough to kill off the old laying hens, but went for the young ones now just begging to produce eggs. Don’t these predators
know I’ve got better things to do this time of year than to play security guard to some laying hens?

Typical Incomplete Spring Project

Like most people who farm, I dream up how the spring season will unfold every winter from the warm confines of my home. This winter I was thinking that I would leisurely put up a new 26 by 96 foot high tunnels and have it planted with tomatoes, cucumbers, and pepper by early May.
Hah…three weeks ago we finally finished the frame and it still sits there without any plastic covering (a greenhouse is pretty useless without a covering).
Winter plans never foresee the crazy planting schedule that explodes in my face every spring. It’s a lot of waiting and waiting because of cold, rain, and high winds before trying to plug in as many seeds and plants as possible in a whatever window of time nature gives me. I also have to juggle this with the beginning battle with weeds which erupts in June as well as the first forays of insect mercenaries who try begin their invasion on all fronts. Typical…
Dad and I working on high tunnel in April (note snow on ground!):

Still, it always turns around. The plants will grow. I’ll fight the weeds and bugs. Produce will be harvested and delivered. It’s only a matter of time, but I know we’ll get there.

What Keeps us Busy in the Spring?

Before we start planting outside and really firing up the greenhouse, we try to take care of some items we won’t have time to do when the vegetable season starts in earnest. We take care of jobs related to the sheep like trimming hooves and shearing (I thankfully hired this out this year).
For the last three years we’ve been out sugaring in April, tapping trees and waiting, waiting, waiting for sap to boil down in to syrup. Here’s a picture of Maree and Graham finishing off syrup at the end of the process:

The finished product:

Ever wonder what happens to old laying hens? It’s called canned chicken and broth. The chickens are cut up, put into mason jars, and processed in a pressure canner. The final product is kind of gross looking, but the flavor is great. It’s pretty convenient when you’re making a pot pie or chicken soup and you have pre-cooked chicken on hand. The backs and necks get boiled for broth and then processed in the pressure canner. 4 chickens yielded 14 quarts of broth and 7 quarts of canned chicken:

Planting Sweet Corn with Holland Transplanter


This video shows our transplater and how we get most of our planting in the ground in the spring. The transplanter makes really light work of many plants…could you imagine planting 1300 tomato plants by hand? With this Holland Transplater you can put all of them in an afternoon.

We got ours from a family by Viroqua Wisconsin where they used to grow a lot of tobacco before the quota buyout. Since tobacco has to be set in the ground as a plant as opposed to a seed and often the farms are small, you’ll find a lot of transplanters in areas where tobacco is grown, but not many up in northern Minnesota. Typically people don’t know what I’m talking about when I use the term transplanter, or, if they do, they often say something like “oh, you mean a tree planter!” I guess.