January in the greenhouse, again!

Let’s see.. last January, we had one greenhouse.

Now there are two.  Let’s take a look inside the big one.

Looks promising.  What’s growing in here?

Tatsoi.  Beautiful tatsoi.  More people need to know about this delicious spinach alternative.

Lettuce & green onions.  The lettuce maybe has another cutting in it, since we’re having this warm, sunny spell.

For really early spring, there is a bed of radishes & carrots.  The radishes are only a couple weeks away.. the carrots probably won’t be ready until March or April.  The southernmost bed, not pictured, has red mustard, kale, arugula, and spinach.

 

The small greenhouse looks nice too.

Baby kale, anyone? The other beds contain mizuna, arugula, and yukina savoy.  Another grower told me I should try yukina savoy, and I do like it a lot.

All the rows are uncovered today because it’s 55 F outside, and the forecast is for fairly warm nights this week.  When it gets below 20 F at night again, I’ll cover the beds back up with the white row cover.

 

 

August Abundance

As usual, once summer abundance sets in, it’s difficult to find time to blog.

We just put our final batch of broilers out on pasture, and received our last shipment of baby chicks for the season- 50 golden comets.  We’ve not had this breed before, but they are supposed to be tame and excellent layers.

golden comet chicks

First meal after 2 days in the mail

The tomato abundance is keeping us very busy.  These pictures are of less than one day’s harvest.  Our biggest one day harvest so far was around 250 lb.

tomatoes

tomato zoom

heirloom cherry tomatoes

I am busily working on the CSA application for next year and should have it ready by the weekend.  One of these tomato pictures might even be included.

Our next abundant harvest item?  Winter squash.  We have a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck butternut squash out in the field- they are sizing up to enormous proportions and look delicious.  The seed is from Nature’s Crossroads, right here in Indiana.  We’re growing several of their products this season but this squash might be my favorite.

We’ve applied for a grant for some fencing on our farm.  They are accepting applications through October 31st.  I don’t know if more page views benefit us or not, but have a look at our story.  I was limited to less than 500 words, so it’s shorter than my blog posts!

Catching up…

April was wet, and our 80 foot greenhouse fell down in a storm. These two things meant we started the month of May behind schedule.

Two greenhouses were standing in a field. One was taken, the other was left.

The 40-foot greenhouse has been overflowing with transplants ever since that time.  When the ground is wet, the plants stay in the trays.

The weather dried up enough to start field planting around May 15th or so.  I got a few things in before that, but cold, rainy weather didn’t really encourage them to thrive.  Our replacement greenhouse arrived on May 17th.   Nothing like having it all happen at once!

On Saturday, May 21st, some friends and work share members visited.  The friends helped with the greenhouse & the work share members helped with the field planting.  The weather was perfect- sunny during the day, followed by about an inch of rain to soak in the transplants after everyone went home.

Cold, rain, and storms have been the rule, rather than the exception, for the last few weeks, but I think we’re turning the corner.  The new greenhouse is fully planted as of today, the west end is framed up with a fan installed, and we might actually put the plastic cover on this week.

West end of greenhouse, with fan!

It’s 90 degrees out today, and the strawberries are getting ripe.  Why didn’t I renovate the paths last summer again?

We’re still behind schedule, but the dry, warm weather in the forecast for this week is a very good thing.  June is off to a more encouraging start than May.

Oh, and have you ever eaten garlic scapes?   Because that’s the other thing we’re harvesting this week, brought on by the heat.  This means another early year for garlic!

Thankful

Thank you to all of our customers this year.  Whether you visit us at the market, join the CSA, or enjoy our real eggs, you keep us going.  You’re the best.  Thank you for caring about where your food comes from.  Whenever we get to know you, we feel like we’re meeting old friends.

We won’t be at Traders Point market on Saturday, November 26th.  It will be our first completely market-free weekend since April!  We’ll be back during the next two weekends for Christmas at the Market.

This is our time of year for planning & analysis.  We’ll keep you posted on any changes we’re planning for 2011.

We got the Carmel market contract in the mail & noticed a few changes:

  • More market weeks:  The market will start May 21st and go through October 29th.  More work for us, but also more revenue.  Having another market for fall items will be nice.
  • We’re not enormous fans of the Carmel market’s “50% rule,” which is that 50% of product is supposed to be grown by the vendor.  As a grower, I’d rather have a grower-only market (a 100% rule, if you will) or at least more of an 80% rule.  However, a big step in the right direction is in the current contract.  Any products that vendors don’t grow themselves are now supposed to be labeled with the name & address of the grower.   I don’t know how enforcement will work, but it sure seems like the right thing to do.  I think the market committee is concerned that a grower-only market would result in an insufficient product mix.  It will be interesting to see exactly which products are being “bought in.”
  • New market space.  The Carmel market is moving to the green next to the Palladium.  A new, larger, fabulously landscaped space with more parking is something both customers and vendors like us can be thankful for.

We are also very thankful for the friends & family members who helped out on the farm this year.  Some worked for money, some were part of work shares, and some just volunteered their time and effort in various ways.  All of you are amazing.

Finally, we’re just thankful that we get to do this.  Living in the country, seeing the stars, watching plants & animals grow out of the soil, and watching the soil come back to life are everyday miracles.

Whenever someone asks me at the market, “Did you grow all of this yourself?”  I feel a strange moment of hubris when responding, “Yes.”  Because I didn’t, really.  The plants grew, but I’m not the one who told a tiny seed to open, instructed leaves to transform sun into energy, enabled roots to draw nutrients up from the soil, and made all prosper with flowers and fruits into something good to eat.  The plant grew itself, and whatever you believe about how it got the means to do that, I get to watch it happen all the time, over and over, thousands of times every season.  And that’s what I’m most thankful for, and that’s why I’m farming.

 

 

It’s dry out there.

I looked at our rain data for this summer and it was as follows:

June: 12.4 inches of rain

July : 7.9 inches of rain

August: 1.4 inches of rain

The rain in August has all come 1/4 inch at a time or so.  Right now I’m running the irrigation for a couple of days to loosen up the sweet potato hill.

Despite the dry conditions, and due to the drip irrigation, we have lots of fall stuff up and looking ok so far.  But it would all really take off if we had a nice, gentle, overnight rain.  It’s funny how in June we can be praying for the rain to stop, and in August, wishing just a little of it would come back our way.

CSA Work Day #1

4 friends, new & old, came out & braved cold, drizzling conditions to help out with putting up our hoophouse.  They stood in puddles, lost shoes in the mud, and even brought side dishes.  They made a lot more space in the pole barn, sorted out all the parts, put together all the hoops, and have the posts driven.  Once it dries out a little, we’ll get the hoops up & take some pictures!

We are so grateful that folks who, in some cases, have just met us are willing to take time out of their weekends to help us in our effort to build a sustainable family farm.  Perhaps it’s our farm name, but many of our members seem to be employed in technical fields or be engineers.  It’s doubly amazing to me that many “desk job” sorts of persons will come out and spend a day covered in mud to help us out.

We’ll be using this hoophouse, assuming it makes it up in a timely fashion, to grow early tomatoes for the CSA & market.  I hope to get a few cucumbers going in there also, and possibly early greens.

Long term, we have the pieces for 1 more hoophouse that’s twice as long, or 2 that are the same size.  We’d like to use one to grow & start produce, and use the other for overwintering chickens, probably alternating between the two as needed to maintain soil fertility.

A familiar face

I was walking through the dining room this morning when I saw a familiar face looking at me through the window in the front door.  It was a fuzzy, black and white face- the face of one of our heifers, standing on the front porch.  She stared at me for a minute, then bolted away as I moved toward the front door.  

We hadn’t had any cows escape since one particularly bad day in June, and I was not looking forward to repeating that experience in the winter.  This same heifer had led the way on that day.  

Since I was home alone, I had to spend some time thinking about how to handle this.  I peered out the front door & didn’t see any other cattle.  Went upstairs and, to my relief, was able to see that the 4 others were still inside the fence.  

With a bale of hay, some herd psychology, and about half an hour, I was able to get her back inside the fence.  She was ready to rejoin her friends.  There was no running madly through muddy fields this time.  

A little investigation revealed that she had probably stepped over the wall of our cow stall in the barn, and just waltzed out the front door.  Mr. Burke is presently outdoors, nailing a few more boards to the stall wall to make it higher.  I’m especially glad that it wasn’t something like a breach in the field fence, which is a very annoying thing to fix in the winter!

Also, I’m very glad that our work with taming the cattle has paid off so much.  The heifer that escaped today was the least-tame of all our cattle, but she still tolerated my presence and responded to what I wanted her to do MUCH more easily than before.  We strongly believe that tame cattle make better beef, since they will have produced fewer stress hormones.  Food is a great motivator!

My favorite tools

I’ve been meaning for a while now to write a post about some of my favorite tools, equipment, etc. around the farm.  So here they are’ in no particular order.  Each description will tell you why I like the item.

1) Drip irrigation system

I have a t-tape system from DripWorks.  I love this system because once it’s out in the field, watering is literally a matter of turning the hose on or off.  Our field is too big to irrigate all at once on our residential well, but I have valves installed on each row so I can just irrigate whichever rows I prefer on a given day.  And when I run out of valves, I just run a little extra t-tape at the end of each row so I can switch rows manually- still not too hard to do.

There are a couple pitfalls of the system.  First, it’s a pain to pull all the t-tape out of the field in the fall.  We’re going to experiment with t-tape winders this year.  Second, mice chew on the stuff both out in the field and when it’s in storage, so there is always mending to do. Third, it can be a pain to cultivate around.  This year I got around that problem by putting it out really late, but that meant I was watering in transplants by hand and I HATE DOING THAT.

2) The stirrup hoe

Oh, how I love the stirrup hoe.  With smallish weeds and dry soil, this thing makes cultivating actually kind of fun.  It slices just under the surface of the soil like a razor blade and the weeds become dessicated.  It also works very well for hacking at bigger weeds, better than a regular hoe. I have a Glaser hoe blade with a super-long handle that I got from Johnny’s.  An extra-long handle means you can stand up when you hoe and it’s much easier on the back.

3) Felco #2 pruners

My first “favorite tool” is Felco #2 pruners.  I love the red handle to keep them from getting lost in the garden.  I love how they cut everything from a tree branch to tiny flower stems with relative ease.  I first used these at a job where I was regularly pruning roses with them.  During Christmas Tree Season at the same job, they were my favorite tool to cut up tree branches for making ornamental fir and pine bundles.  We used many different types of pruners at that job and the Felcos were always taken first!  I use them now for cutting flowers, bramble canes, and giant weeds of all kinds.  They even cut twine if they are sharp (I only sharpen mine once a year or so…)

4) My troy-bilt rototiller from 1979.

Usually I get aggravated with older power equipment because it’s hard to start, smoky, loud, and breaks a lot.   But I can start this rototiller myself, and it has a recoil start!  It’s simple to use, and only aggravates me when I have to cut long weeds out of the tines or when it dumps gas on the ground (ok, it has a little carb issue.)  I can rototill between all of my rows and not use an entire tank of gas.  And I like the way it looks, sitting out in the field with a galvanized washtub over the engine to protect it from rain (not that we’ve had any rain lately.)

5) My cheap harvesting knives

I bought a couple cheap harvesting knives last year.  One was advertised as a broccoli knife, and one was a lettuce knife I think.  They are both from Johnny’s.  I have a small serrated one with a red handle, and a bigger straight knife with a brown handle.  The brown handle blends in with the dirt too well, but I love the knife because it cuts through lettuce like butter.  And greens.  And my finger!  Ouch.  The serrated knife is nice for broccoli, okra, and summer squash, and I am looking forward to using it on pumpkins, etc. this fall.

6) The rotary mower

It’s like mowing, but faster, and with an added element of PTO danger.  What’s not to like?

The weeds are worth it.

In an ideal year, all transplants would gradually be placed outdoors during April and May. Each week, one or two new things would be planted in the garden and only the pepper plants and sweet potatoes would remain to be planted at the beginning of June. This would leave plenty of time to put down plastic mulch, drip irrigation, and row covers gradually, as these items were needed.

This hasn’t exactly been an ideal year. I planted most everything during the one ten-day dry spell we’ve had. Because of my haste, the rows are not straight, and plastic mulch didn’t make it down under as many of the transplants as I’d have liked. All the rain has given the weeds ample time to germinate and I’m spending a lot of time hoeing, hand weeding, and wishing the rows were straighter so I could do a little more tractor cultivating. However, there haven’t been many days dry enough for that anyway.

But even when everything isn’t perfect, I still love it. Being out in the sun, rain, mosquitoes, and flies, pulling foxtail grass endlessly, sitting on thistles, dodging poison ivy, getting drip tape wrapped up in the rototiller tines, and standing on the hot pavement every Saturday morning bright and early are all parts of the best job in the world. I see the sun rise and set. I eat fruit warmed by the sun at the peak of ripeness. I watch hummingbirds, discover barn swallows, and am surprised by toads. Even weeds have pretty flowers sometimes. I am in the fresh air and obtain free exercise and a tan. I get to drive a tractor. I pick fruit and vegetables by the pint, quart, bucket, bunch, bushel, and hundredweight. I sleep a blessed, oblivious sleep on nights when I’ve been working in the field. There are always new problems to solve and interesting things to think about.

Besides the pure enjoyment of the outdoor physical labor, there is the satisfaction of doing something to make this little piece of ground better. Organic matter is being added to the soil. Erosion is slowing down, rain is being soaked down into the ground instead of running off. Zillions of microbes of every kind are coming to life and doing everything they do to support life. The ground is making a recovery from its deadening dependence on external inputs.

And as if this weren’t enough, people who care about what they eat are getting a chance to eat wonderful food that comes from 25 miles away from their home instead of the average grocery store food that travels something like 1200 miles. And I get to meet these people! I love this.

Chasing Cows

We had almost 2 inches of rain on Thursday.

The cows arrived on Friday. They were less than thrilled about the whole moving experience and within 10 minutes, three of the five cows had found the highest bit of electric wire and managed to get under it. Mr. B. and I took off after them. Mr. B. put our 2.5 year old in the “baby backpack” and high-tailed it across the very muddy adjoining fields. The cows were off our property, heading for who knows where. I was running across the field also.

Now I’m sure it was obvious to anyone who was watching that neither of us knew anything about cattle, and any time we tried to run or walk faster those cows would start running too. I have no idea where they were going, but the corn and beans around us are all still miniscule and so there wasn’t really anything for the cows to stop and eat. Since this is a family website, I won’t mention all the epithets for the cows that were going through my head at this point. The thought of the rather large amount of cash we had just shelled out for these creatures, the knowledge that two of them were still back there unsupervised and maybe getting out as well (we lowered the fence right away, but I had no idea how seriously they would try to join the herd) and the sight of large cow feet stomping through the mud and tearing up my neighbors’ crops were combining to make me totally miserable. Also there was the adrenalin rushing through my body as I tried as hard as I could not to lose my shoes in the mud. I remember praying, “PLEASE GOD HELP US CATCH THESE COWS!!”

In a feat of superhuman strength, running (or walking as fast as he could) through the mud,  with an extra 30 lbs or so on his back, Mr. B. was able to get in front of the cows and get them to turn back.

We kept on our journey. The cows retraced their steps, went back into the pasture (but still outside the wire), into our yard, back across the street into the other neighbors’ soybeans, all over the place. A few times they tried to get back in and rejoin the two steers who had not escaped. A steer got back under the fence and rejoined his brothers, but the 2 heifers were too big and just got shocked by the fence and got even madder than they already were.

After about 2 hours of this delightful adventure, our 2.5 year old was ready for lunch and a nap. I brought him in the house and started calling everyone I could think of on the phone. My first call was to my farm mentor, who tipped us from the point of “thinking about cows” to “getting cows” this year. He gave me some suggestions of what not to do, and said if they were still out the next day we’d have to find someone with a rodeo hobby to come out and rope them. I called our neighbor with horses to see if he knew any rodeo types, but he wasn’t home. After that I figured I’d better call Farmer Y, who rents our land, since the cows were out there stomping on his crop.

Farmer Y and his family kindly agreed to help. I called Mr. B., who was still out in the field with the cows, and let him know they were on the way. The cows were more tired now and were back in our pasture eating the nice long grass, but were still *outside* of their electric fence. Farmer Y, his dad, and his grandfather came over with two trucks and a rope. I was in the house getting the child to take a nap at this point. Once he was asleep I went out to see what was going on and if I could be of help. The cows were still out with Mr B, Farmer Y, and Farmer Y Senior herding them around. Grandpa was keeping his distance and just watching everything unfold. They’d made one unsuccessful attempt to corner the recalcitrant heifers back into the fence, but had failed.

I went back inside and got on the phone to see if I could find more help. I won’t mention all the people I talked to, but I was on hold for the Animal Control officer when the men came back in and said they had gotten the cows back in. The cows had been out for a little more than 4 hours.

We had nice farmer chat and a drink out in the driveway afterwards, mostly about what a wet year this was. Grandpa said it wasn’t as bad as 1974, when he didn’t get his corn in until the end of June and then didn’t get anything for his effort. When talking to the three generations of family farmers, I noticed even more than usual what newcomers Mr. B. and I are to this area and to farming, and how different we are from the “normal” farmers in this area.

The cows are doing fine, and are staying in their fence, and are getting the hang of rotational grazing.  We are doing our best to befriend them so that if they ever escape again it will be easier.  Now that we’re not chasing them all over the county, the cattle are actually less work than chickens- they feed themselves!