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.

From Apprentice to Married Farmer

I got my routine all thrown off (hence, you are getting a newsletter about a day late), but all for a good reason. A wedding.

For those of you who have been CSA members or associated with the farm for a while, you know that Kelsey Wulf was our apprentice for four years. We worked side-by-side for 10- and 12-hour days where we talked pretty much every detail of life. Kelsey lived on-farm in the intern house attached to the winter greenhouse year-round and she became part of our family. So, I took great pride in being part of the bridal party this past weekend at her and Ben Anderson’s wedding near Brainerd. No bridesmaid’s dress – I got to dress up 1960’s mafia-style with the thin black tie. Kelsey's Wedding

 

Kelsey’s always been a livestock person and she and Ben just purchased a farm near Underwood, which they promptly filled up with critters. Now milking a cow and caring for more animals than I’d want to plus a gazillion other inspired farm projects (including Kelsey’s farm-raised balms, salves, and lotions called Bea’s Botanicals – check out and buy often at her website), Kelsey and Ben are in much the same headspace as when we first moved to Lida Farm. It makes me tired to think about it, but at one time we had the same zeal and energy to turn a farm into our own. I can think of no better project for newlyweds than building a life together on a piece of ground.

In the box:

  • Tomato Mix
  • Italia Sweet Peppers: Long red peppers. A lot of people think that they are hot, but they are sweet.
  • Yellow or Orange Pepper
  • Cippolini Onions: These are my favorite onion. Yes, they are flat and kind of hard to deal with, but I think the flavor is great.
  • Snacking Pepper Mix: These little multi-colored peppers are a variety called Bangles. I find them really pretty and maybe a nice change-up if you’re just looking for something to munch on. They could stuff them for fancy appetizers…add some cheese and bacon: https://belleofthekitchen.com/2016/02/26/cheesy-bacon-stuffed-mini-peppers/ 
  • Cabbage: I admit that I really stretched to get this in the box. Some are small, some of you got half of a head. A bad planting two months ago came back to haunt me.
  • A Little Lettuce
  • Yellow Satina Potatoes
  • Acorn Winter Squash
  • Buttercup Winter Squash
  • Flat Leaf Parsley 
  • Fresh Thyme
  • A Couple Radishes

The Great Season Change-over

After lumbering down the stairs in my usual under-dressed morning attire, I threw open the patio door to retrieve something from the cabin in the backyard. Cold air blasted me like I’d just stepped into an walk-in cooler. What happened? Is summer over?

Cold House.JPG
Cold House Planted to Greens, Fall 2017

Each August, autumn starts to find us. It starts with some cool nights, and, before you know it, frost. This morning’s insta-chill reminded me that I have to get to work on the great season change-over this week! The fall season is a great time to grow cool-season crops, but, due to the loss of sunlight and heat, it’s a tight window to get things planted with any hope of harvest. Those seeds planted in the ground this week have a fighting chance. In 10 days time, it’s hopeless.

The great season change-over entails us planting the last crops outside, preparing and planting our two high tunnels, and getting some cover crops started in the fields.

One of our high tunnels is currently filled with tomato and cucumber plants and will be our ‘cool house’ where we will heat just enough to keep the interior near freezing into December. This will allow us to move along cool-season greens, radishes, and the like without stressing them through cold. Our other high tunnel, on the other hand, is totally unheated and will be filled with cold-hearty spinach which survive just about anything. Last year our latest harvest was the middle of December and was super sweet after going down into the single digits. We cover the plants in this greenhouse with a floating row cover, which helps retain a few precious degrees as we head into snow territory.

The last couple of years I’ve fallen short of getting cover crops in place, but I’m committed this year. We use a standard rye and vetch mix which is very hardy in MN. It covers the ground so I don’t have wind erosion where the ground is exposed in the winter and it keeps the ground in place when spring rains come, all the while adding biomass and nitrogen to the soil. It’s an all-round good thing, but I just have to get it done.

This whole post is putting me on edge and making me feel like a squirrel who needs to store nuts really quickly…got to go! Lidafarmer over and out.

In the box:

    • A Few Ears of Silver King White Sweet Corn: This is the end of the line on the corn. I find this Silver King a nice change-up from sweet bi-color corn.
    • Cantaloupe
    • Eggplant: A lot of people suffer with finding a way to prepare eggplant. If you’re tired of eggplant parmesan or fried and breaded, try this baba ganoush dip (baba ganoush is also really fun to say).
    • Salad Mix
    • Cilantro
    • Yellow Onion
    • Shallots: These are small and pink in color. You can use where ever a recipe calls for an onion. Store like all onions, in a dry place at room temperature.
    • Carrots
    • Beets 
    • Anaheim Peppers
    • Colored Pepper
    • Tomato mix: Most are romas (best for saucing, not fresh eating) since they haven’t been in before, but you also received a regular slicing tomato and a Cherokee Purple, a wonderful heirloom.

 

 

Pigs and Compost

The mighty pig. Well-known for snorting, eating, and bestowing bacon on the masses.  These animals have not only earned these reputations, they manage to do even more! Now I’m running the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial…”And if you buy now in three easy installments of $19.99, we’ll provide you with the pocket fisherman as a free gift…”


Honestly, we like to keep pigs because they are compost-making workhorses. On a vegetable farm there are always good-veggies-gone-bad and heaps of veggie biomass such as carrot tops we cut off. For any of you who pick up at farm, you may have spied these piles we leave behind as we race off to the dropsites on Monday. Hogs are able to convert these heaps of waste into useful manure that we turn into compost and spread on the fields for added fertility. The process of transforming an overgrown zucchini into fertilizer happens quicker when that zucchini goes first through the gut of an animal. Kind of gross, but true.

In addition, pigs love to root. In the back of our barn, we have these old piles of bedding and pigs like nothing more than to turn it over and over and over. Other farmers buy these machines which turn over biomass to make compost. We just have the pigs do it.

So, you can see why having a few hogs is a mutually beneficial relationship on the farm. They get to eat all they want and root around like pigs should. We employ their efforts to make compost and to recycle the farm’s byproducts. And, oh, we also get some meat to boot at the end of the year. Thank you, pigs.

In the box:

  • Yellow or Orange Watermelon
  • Leeks 
  • Red Onion 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Garlic 
  • Poblano Peppers: These are hot peppers, but typically less hot than a jalapeno.
  • Italia Pepper
  • One Colored Pepper: We have a mix of peppers turning color out there. Some are orange, some red, some yellow…all good.
  • Sweet Corn
  • Lettuce or Salad Mix: Just a sampling as my lettuce bed for this round was just not cooperating.
  • A Few Carrots
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Daikon Radish: Mar and I like this refrigerator pickle recipe, so no processing involved. Just follow the recipe and keep in the fridge until ready to use. You probably don’t have enough for the whole recipe, but you get the idea and adjust accordingly: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/vietnamese_daikon_and_carrot_pickles/

Managing Weeds with Silage Tarps

The key term is occultation. A bit cumbersome a word, but it sounds cool. Deriving from the same root for the occult meaning ‘hidden’ or conceal,’ we’re basically hiding the weeds from the sun to keep them under control.

Recently popularized in North America by a Quebecois named Jean-Martin Fortier, the practice has been standard operating procedure among vegetable operators in Europe. The practice is simply covering ground with a heavy silage tarp to prepare a clean bed. Under the silage tarp, it’s warm, dark, and moist. This is the perfect environment to get weed seeds to germinate, perennial weeds to cook and die, and generally break down any crop residues or vegetation underneath. The result is a fairly weed-free area which is great for finely-seeded crops. We prefer to use this valuable space for things such as carrots and salad mix.

IMG_6374The only issue with this whole practice is moving a huge tarp. Originally our tarp was 50 feet by 200 feet in size, but moving a monster like that takes a lot of energy (especially after a rain). So, we cut it in half, which makes it much more manageable.

Preparing a bed in this way is magical because it doesn’t take tillage (overworking the soil has a lot of issues) and the tarp is doing its work without any thought or effort on my part. I can just go along paying attention to other parts of the farm, and, when I need the bed, I just pull back the tarp, apply compost by hand, and give a light till just over the top to make a nice seedbed.

In the box:

  • Tomato mix: Yes, regular slicing tomatoes are now coming in with many more in the near future. I’m not in love with the prettiness of these guys, but they have a good taste as any first tomatoes should.
  • Satina Yellow Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Peppers
  • Eggplant: There is a mix of Italian and Asian style…you got one or the other.
  • Parsley
  • Sweet Onion 
  • 1-2 Fresh Shallots: Looks like a purple onion, but it’s actually a shallot. Really can be used anywhere you use onion. Like onions, it will dry down and cure in a warm, dry location.
  • Beets: A little mix of gold and regular beets.
  • Black Spanish Radishes: This one is a bit of an oddball, so check out this article with three ways to prepare it: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-erway/black-radish-recipes_b_2617652.html
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Green and Purple Bean Mix

 

 

Hot, Dry May = Stressed Broccoli

I think we all know that our early years impact our whole life. So too with plants.

We have experienced so much heat since that we don’t remember that May was unseasonably hot and dry. This was fine for plants like peppers and tomatoes that are the plant equivalent of sunseekers who spend half the year in Cozumel on a beach. They also don’t need too much water. One plant family, however, has just not lived up to its full potential due to the stress of May – Brassicas. Sometimes called the cruciferous family, this includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Napa cabbage, and kohlrabi.

20180630_122301
Mr. T in the Kohrabi

Brassicas do best in the cool, wet seasons of spring and fall. During this time, they get rooted, and put grow out big leaves which later collects the sun and nutrients to put on that big, beautiful broccoli crown or cauliflower. This year, however, the plants just got stressed early and the heat stopped this process – they just shut down and didn’t grow to make it through the heat. The effect is that brassicas got really late and have been putting out disappointing crops because they are not maturing in the heat of lake July. Couple that with early cabbage moths which got into full force with the early summer heat and the timing is just off. You’ll see the effects on this week’s ‘un-even’ broccoli, which just happens in the heat. The stuff should have been done two weeks ago!

This is just life juggling multiple crops and navigating the variation of any growing season. The timing matters a lot and we just need to work with the season life gives us.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn: A mix of both bi-color Trinity variety and all-yellow Sugar Buns
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • Broccoli: See writing above…it’s pretty uneven and stressed due to the heat. Not my best broccoli, but I know there’s still something here to put to work
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Salad Mix
  • Potatoes: Most of them are red variety, but some are Yellow Satina.
  • Fresh Oregano

Secret to Staying Limber over 40

Yesterday I logged about 12-hours of work. I wasn’t just typing on a keyboard (like I am now), but lifting heavy things in the hot sun and generally abusing my body. How do I keep on going after 17 farm seasons? I’ll give you my secret in a bit, but let me first set the stage by sharing a list of yesterday’s accomplishments:

  • Hoisted pig feeder on trailer and moved to new pasture
  • Harvested and cleaned garlic, onions, beans, and broccoli
  • Weeded onions by hand
  • Stocked farm stand a couple times
  • Hoed peppers
  • Trellised tomatoes
  • Set up fence for pigs in new pastures
  • Fixed raccoon fence with weed whip
  • Flail mowed
  • Prepared bed with wheel hoe and rake and planted lettuces
  • Set new irrigation by dragging around a few hundred feet of hose
  • Other things…?

Typical stuff on a vegetable farm. Commercial vegetable production is not so much a business as a really large time management experiment. All told, however, it’s a lot of manual tasks with a bunch of walking in between each job.

The magic I’ve come across that keeps me in the groove and fit enough to routinely slug out 12 and 14-hour days is yoga. My past apprentice Kelsey would just chalk it up to my total hippy-ness, but a morning of about 30 minutes of yoga followed by two cups of coffee, a smoothie, and some vitamins (magnesium and multivitamin) seems to be the secret sauce to conquer the world.

Especially since I do all this physical effort, yoga asana has a huge impact, not only because it strengthens my body to do the effort, but also in yoga we practice holding an effort. Whether I need to push a wheel hoe up and down a field multiple times or carry a heavy crate a long distance, it’s the same in my mind as holding a yoga pose. It’s pretty easy after practicing every single morning (I’ve skipped maybe 20 days in the past two years). In addition, it’s by far the most effective stress reduction practice and certainly keeps me limber. There are few days that I wake up sore, no matter the hours or efforts logged the day before.

Unlimited free yoga on youtube here – give it a whirl…it might change your life. To give you an entry point, I started with this 30 Days of Yoga in 2016 and haven’t stopped since.

In the box:

I think we’ve officially hit high season with this box…welcome corn, tomatoes, and beans!

  • Broccoli: Please look for cabbage loopers (ugly green worms). We soaked these heads a few hours to drown them out, but some always escape. You can soak in saltwater and a little vinegar more as per these instructions before use.
  • Green Cabbage
  • Fresh Fennel: This is a rare crop that a few adore and most are confused by. Let me assure you that this is more versatile than you’d think…great in salads, great with chicken, and a lot of mediterranean food like french braises and Italian sauces. Lot of ideas at https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/09/fennel-recipes.html
  • Fresh Thyme: Little fragrant bunch with a red band.
  • Provider Green Beans
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • A Couple Cucumbers
  • Sugar Buns Yellow Sweet Corn: Small ears, but this is consistently an early variety and still very young. I was able to find 4 ears for everybody that was getting to size, but there will be more coming in the near future.
  • Green Garlic: This is uncured, fresh garlic, so the outside wrapper isn’t dried down yet. The garlic is a little more pungent, but you’d use the same way. If you aren’t ready to use fresh, just leave in a dry sunny location and it’ll cure in your house.
  • Alisa Craig Sweet Onion