Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brussels Sprouts

We have an excellent supply of brussels sprouts this year. Because of the very late frost this year we had green beans about three weeks longer than normal. I don't even start harvesting brussels sprouts until frost. The sprouts take the place of green beans in our market display.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Savage Mini Market

We joined our good friends Laur and Nick Wiesensel Sunday afternoon for a fall festival at Cal's Market in Savage, Minnesota, on the south side of the Twin Cities. The market featured lots of crafts, grass fed beef from Paul Weins, Alaska Salmon and Petersen's (yes us) vegetables. It was an eclectic group.

We enjoyed some great weather and had a real good turn out.

We met some new friends and renewed old acquaintances.

It was a busy day but we made it home safe and sound.

Thanks to Laur for organizing the day and bringing us all together. Thanks to Nick for documenting the day with 100's of photographs.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sweeter with Frost - Kale

Kale is one of the most frost hardy of the greens and highly nutritious. It protects it's cells from deep cold by increasing the solids content in the cells. One of the solids being sugar. Mature kale has a heavy leaf that holds up well under repeat freeze and thaw cycles. It wilts after a heavy frost and then recovers during the thaw the next day.

Kale has gained popularity over the past several years as a gourmet green as well as a highly nutritious health promoting and cancer preventing food. I was not aware at the time, but I have been looking for a seed source for baby kale. I finally found a source this year and was taking baby kale to market this spring way ahead of when the full sized kale would be available.

In parallel the cooking magazines were promoting kale as the next hot food item for raw and cooked dishes. Largely due to these promotions kale was highly prized as a farmers market purchase. Some weeks we sold more baby kale than spring mix.

I was wondering if this baby kale would hold up under frost like the full sized plants and so far it has been hanging in there.

Kale also has few pests. The little green worms that love cabbage and broccoli pretty much leave kale alone.

We will see how it goes next season. If kale is a flash in the pan designer green or if it has the staying power of some of the other common greens.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Market Menu for October 26, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, October 26, 2013. This is our last week outside and we will be at the fair ground for winter market starting in November.  (New items are in Bold Print)

All greens are from new beds and are amazing! (Thanks for picking, Jenna!)

Brussels Sprouts
Pumpkins - Decorating, Cinderella
Winter Squash - Acorn, Spaghetti, Delicata, Orange Hubbard, Butternut, Buttercup, Orange Kuri, Kubotcha
Pie Pumpkins - New England Pie, Winter Luxury
Yellow Watermelon
Baby Zucchini & Patty Pan - Seasonal Specialty
Cherry Tomatoes - Good Supply
Heirloom Tomatoes
Watermelon - 6 varieties, Amazing (We arre bringning 60 melons this week.)
Eggplant 4 bushels this week
Hot Peppers - Jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Ancho & Habernaro
Tomatoes - slicers, Romas, cherries
Tomatillos - very nice
Red Onions
Garlic
Leeks
Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Chipolini Onions
Baby Spring Mix - Lettuce, Beet Greens, Kale (new lettuce bed this week)
Baby Red Russian Kale - Good Supply
Baby Kale - Regular
Spinach
Arugula
Baby Cilantro
Cress
Sweet Ruby - a fine frilly mustard green, new bed this week
Fresh Cut Herbs - Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Cilantro, Thyme, Dill
Dandelion Greens
Shallots - New 
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap

Sweeter with Frost - Spinach

Spinach takes the grand prize of frost hardy and frost sweetened. Spinach will overwinter in Minnesota with a little snow cover. It goes dormant in the freeze up and wakes back up in the spring thaw and will start growing again. The leaves that have been frozen all winter are edible but not good quality, but the new growth is outstanding.

We plant fall and winter spinach between September 1-15 and plant about 3x the amount we would plant for the main summer season. It grows throughout the fall and we harvest as needed. The earlier planting often is harvested twice. The later planting is typically harvested just before freeze up and we often stop harvesting due to snow in early December.

Spinach is always sweet but is especially so after a few light frosts...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Weird Farming Ideas

I like to introduce at least one wierd new thing at the Rochester Minnesota Farmers Market every season. I define weird as something not currently available at our market today and sometimes this may mean it is not available anywhere (that I know of). I will probably do a blog post on each of these over time so watch this space.

Some recent examples are:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Debt Free Farming

Do not go into debt to start farming. We started our farm without debt and have grown our farming operation with retained earnings. (This means we pay as we go.)

I spent about $5,000 the first year we moved to our farm from personal savings to buy a 1965 IH 656 Hydrostatic drive tractor. We have used it for 12 years and I could probably still get about that much for it. It was an excellent choice for vegetable farming as it can be driven at a super slow speed (about as fast as you can crawl.) It has been very reliable, only in the shop one time for something or other that was easily fixed.

I typically spend $4000-$5000 on equipment every year. Things such as a walk behind tiller, double wide glass door merchandiser, an enclosed trailer, a pick-up, mechanical transplanter, two rototillers, and a walk in cooler. All have been purchased used and can probably be resold at some point for near the purchase price.

Starting small and growing both your expertise and your financial base can allow you to grow your farming operation without debt.

Proverbs 22:7 says "The borrower is servant to the lender". 

You cannot chart your course if you are a slave to debt. Slow and steady wins the race.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Sweeter With Frost - Carrots

Fresh organic carrots are great anytime of the growing season but are amazing once the plants are exposed to several light frosts. I have been picking enough carrots each week to satisfy our customers. The carrots we have been picking have been excellent, but I have been holding back on the main harvest until we get those first few frosts.

Why are they sweeter with frost? When temperatures drop below freezing the starches in the carrots turn to sugars. That is great for those of us that love carrots, but why do the carrots do this? Well sugar in the cells of the carrots is a type of antifreeze to protect the carrot from damage by ice crystals forming in the cells of the carrot. Carrots are a biennial and need to be able to overwinter to produce seed the next year.

We have an excellent late fall carrot crop this year. I planted 7 rows approximately 300 feet long toward the end of July. It took 100,000 seeds to cover this many rows. I use a strip of compost about 8-10 inches wide and 4 inches deep to provide good emergence and a weed free zone. Carrots don't need a lot of fertilizer so the compost is just right for that. It took 20,000 pounds of compost (14 pickup loads) to make the rows, so it took a couple of weeks to get this all ready.

With the stage set we now had to deal with the weather, it was very very dry about this time and I had to water a couple of times to get things started. Carrots are kind finicky that way, they don't like weeds when they are little and it takes about three weeks after planting for germination and the appearance of those first few spindly fronds. You don't quite know the status of your planting for three weeks. You just need to water thoroughly a couple of times and trust that everything is well.

Our teenagers weeded thoroughly between the rows every couple of weeks and I also ran the wheel hoe through a couple of times. So weed control has been excellent. I planted the rows about 20 inches apart so the carrots at maturity will almost shade the ground between the rows. They look beautiful planted that way.

Most of the carrots came up just fine, but I had one area where I must not have watered enough that didn't germinate. It was only about 20 feet long, so I just replanted those rows. These carrots are about three week behind the main group.

Carrots planted for fall like this need to be plated about 90 days before harvest, instead of the normal 60 days due to the shortening of the days and the drop in temperature during the last month before harvest.

We have been monitoring progress (read munching on a few carrots) for the last 3-4 weeks and things are coming along nicely.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

First Frost

This morning marks what usually is near the first of fall, it's a month delayed, but has still arrived. The first frost (that damaged produce) came this morning. But, while the frost does damage some things, it makes others altogether sweeter. The frosty grass, pumpkins, and windshields reminded me of a poem that I had to memorize in my early elementary years. The poem is by James Whitcomb Riley...

















WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock— When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sweeter with Frost - Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are the king of the frost resistant varieties and can tolerate brief cold to 15 degrees. A few light frosts significantly sweeten the sprouts and remove the bitter taste that is often characteristic of summer sprouts. We don't harvest any sprouts until after first frost and the sprouts take the place of green beans in our market display.

So why do the sprouts get sweeter? The Brussels sprout plant replaces some of the fluid in the plant cells with fructose as a type of anti-freeze. Since these plants are some of the most frost hardy, they are also some of the most dramatic improvements in sweetness.

The Brussels sprouts are planted in late May or early June. About September 1 we remove the growing tip of the Brussels sprout stalk. This stops stem growth and forces the plants to fill out the sprouts. In early October they are pretty much filled and the harvest can begin.

Patients is rewarded with excellent sweet sprouts that we often harvest through Christmas.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweeter with Frost - Broccoli

Broccoli is one of those garden crops that get sweeter with frost. In honor of our first frost yesterday I'm going to do a series of articles on frost hardy vegetables. Broccoli can tolerate temperatures down to 26 degrees for a brief period of time. We often harvest broccoli until Thanksgiving here in Rochester, Minnesota.
,
But why is it sweeter. Broccoli increases it's sugar content after a few light frosts as a protection mechanism against freezing. It is good it does because sweet fall broccoli is some of the best of the season.

We plant the last fall broccoli until approximately the middle to end of August. The normal 45 day maturity is stretched to 75 days when the days get shorter and cooler.

One of the side benefits of the freezing temperatures is the insect pressure goes away. I have some broccoli that is in full production and some that won't be ready for at least a month. Also, one of the full season varieties has great side shoot production. The side shoots can be as large as a full head of broccoli. We planted 6 different varieties this year. The best fall broccoli is a variety called Marathon. Large heads, small bead and very frost hardy.

I'm going to publish a series of posts highlighting the other frost hardy crops and ones where the produce becomes sweeter. There are quite a few and the mechanism for sweetness varies a bit.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What is a Tomatillo?

What is a tomatillo? We get asked all the time what a tomatillo is. They are not commonly grown this far north but you can find them in the produce section in most grocery stores. They are an interesting ingredient in a fresh salsa. They taste like a citrus flavored kiwi, but not so sweet. They are not hot and are very meaty.

They have a husk on the outside that is removed before chopping them up or cooking. They have a little sticky coating on the inside of the husk that can be washed off before use. They sprawl out a little more than the tomato plants and yield pretty good. They yield keeps doubling each week until frost as the plants are heavily branched. They are in the solenacia family the same as peppers and tomatoes.

This year because it was so dry and the tomatillos are about 1/2 mile from the house. I couldn't water. I noticed that plants started to drop their fruit. We got a rain about a week ago and they look like they are back on track.

The plants will reseed themselves the next year and you can thin them out and keep the biggest ones if you'd like. We move them around so don't usually do that.

You haven't had fresh salsa until you add in a couple of tomatillos. You can also make a vibrant green salsa using all tomatillos.




Saturday, October 12, 2013

What if I have some Potatoes yet to Dig

I have one row of potatoes still to dig. So what can I expect? They have been mature for several months and the tops died back.

Potatoes keep extremely well in the ground and cure for good storage. There is probably no better place for them to be than in their natural high humidity habitat.

One you dig them don't wash them until they are to be used as the washing process can introduce mold and remove the natural protection against spoilage.

Potatoes that are well cured and unwashed can keep until spring and be eaten or planted. I had 4-5 buckets of Yukon Gold potatoes that kept until May and I sold them at the May market. Pretty good season extension.

I also like the variety Carola for long term storage.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Market Menu for Saturday, October 12, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, October 12, 2013 (New items are in Bold Print)

All greens are from new beds and are amazing! (Thanks for picking, Jenna!)

Pumpkins - Decorating, Cinderella
Winter Squash - Acorn, Spaghetti, Delicata, Orange Hubbard, Butternut, Buttercup, Orange Kuri, Kubotcha
Pie Pumpkins - New England Pie, Winter Luxury
Yellow Watermelon
Baby Zucchini & Patty Pan - Seasonal Specialty
Cherry Tomatoes - Good Supply
Heirloom Tomatoes
Watermelon - Amazing (I picked 50 melons this week!)
Tomatoes - Canning
Eggplant 2 bushels this week
Fresh Cut Basil - we are on our last few weeks of basil
Hot Peppers - Jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Ancho & Habernaro
Tomatoes - slicers, Romas, cherries
Tomatillos - very nice
Red Onions
Mini Cucumbers - Tender, Crisp, Sweet, Bitter-free and Seedless (Top of the Line)
Red & Green Okra
Garlic - New Crop
Leeks
Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Chipolini Onions
French Filet Beans - new row this week
Baby Spring Mix - Lettuce, Beet Greens, Kale (new lettuce bed this week)
Baby Red Russian Kale - Good Supply
Baby Kale - Regular
Spinach
Arugula
Baby Cilantro
Cress
Sweet Ruby - a fine frilly mustard green, new bed this week
Fresh Cut Herbs - Basil, Mint, Oregano, French Tarragon, Rosemary, Cilantro, Thyme, Dill
Dandelion Greens
Shallots - New 
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap

Oh So Delicious Fall Greens

Fall greens are oh so delicious. Instead of racing the clock to bolt, the plants are in slow motion and will keep for weeks almost like they are in stasis or maybe in the refrigerator with the roots on.We plant fall greens in late August and early September. We start about three times the amount we normally would, because as the days get shorter the plant growth slows proportionately.

We have spinach, lettuce, red Russian kale, kale, arugula, beet greens, and mustard greens in this current state. We started harvesting these greens this week. While they are in limited supply they are amazing while they last.

I have been encouraged by many of our customers to build a green house to extend the harvest into the winter. While this has been tempting and I will likely do that some day, I think we have learned more about season extension by engaging the challenge of picking varieties and growing techniques that are robust under non-greenhouse conditions.

These baby greens are always the "last man standing" when everything else has succumbed to the frost, so there is always deer pressure on the best salad of the season. This year and last we enclosed the salad beds in an electric fence, which is strategically placed next to the carrots, which also need protection.

I don't know how the nutrient content is affected by the shorter days but if good flavor is any indication of top notch nutrients these guys are off the charts.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Watch Out for Rustlers

I woke up at 3:00 am yesterday morning and realized I have left one of the electric fence batteries on the charger and hadn't put it back on the fence at the end of the day. So I got up and took a spin with the four wheeler to put it back on the fence. It only took 10 minutes.

It was a gorgeous night about 65 degrees and little wind so I drove around the fence kinda like a cowboy checking the herd of cattle. Only my herd is 100,000 carrots, three rows of green beans and a couple of hundred watermelon, that the deer would "dearly love" to embibe.  All was well so I went back to bed.

The electric fence has worked wonders at keeping the rustlers out of the carrots. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Will It Explode

Squash won't explode in the oven if you cook it whole. My mother used to cook acorn squash by cutting it in two and cooking with brown sugar and butter. That is the traditional method, but it is much easier to cook the quash whole. Once cooked it cuts like butter and can be easily cleaned of seeds and separated from the shell.

I get asked all the time if you cook a squash whole will it explode. The answer is no. We have cooked 100's and narry a one has exploded. Would be kinda cool if one would go kaboom, but no luck so far.

Two thumbs up for spagetti squash. I grew a variety this year that is a personal size, with full size flavor.

I also grew some small personal size butternut squash. They have been great for a 1-2 person meal.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Very Large Pumpkin Pie

Last year we had a very large crop of pumpkins and squash. We were coming up on Thanksgiving last year and had 100's of little pie pumpkins that needed a home. So what to do?

We donate fresh produce weekly during the summer months at the end of each summer market to Channel One.

So we loaded up the truck and took the remaining bounty to Channel One.

Reed and I filled two big tote bins with pie pumpkins and squash. 1800 pounds they told us.

I hope several hundred needy people had a happy Thanksgiving.

It is more blessed to give than receive.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Market Menu October 5, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, October 5, 2013 (New items are in Bold Print)

All greens are from new beds and are amazing! (Thanks for picking, Jenna!)

Pumpkins - Decorating, Cinderella
Winter Squash - Acorn, Spaghetti, Delicata, Orange Hubbard, Butternut, Buttercup, Orange Kuri Kubotcha
Pie Pumpkins - New England Pie, Winter Luxury
Yellow Watermelon
Baby Zucchini & Patty Pan - Seasonal Specialty
Cherry Tomatoes - Good Supply
Heirloom Tomatoes - Really Good Supply
Watermelon - Amazing (I picked 50 melons this week!)
Tomatoes - Canning
Eggplant
Fresh Cut Basil
Hot Peppers - Jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Ancho & Habernaro
Tomatoes - slicers, Romas, cherries
Tomatillos
Baby Zucchini Squash
Yellow Patty Pan Squash
Red Onions
Mini Cucumbers - Tender, Crisp, Sweet, Bitter-free and Seedless (Top of the Line)
Red & Green Okra
Garlic - New Crop
Leeks
Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Chipolini Onions
French Filet Beans - new row this week
New Baby Potatoes - Red & Yukon
Baby Spring Mix - Lettuce, Beet Greens, Kale (new lettuce bed this week)
Baby Red Russian Kale - Good Supply
Baby Kale - Regular
Spinach
Arugula
Baby Cilantro
Cress
Sweet Ruby - a fine frilly mustard green, new bed this week
Fresh Cut Herbs - Basil, Mint, Oregano, French Tarragon, Rosemary, Cilantro, Thyme, Dill
Dandelion Greens
Shallots - New 
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Herb Plants
- Rosemary
- Basil - Sweet Italian, Tai, Lemon, Holy - Herb of the Week (see Recipes on the VF Blog)
- Mint - Spearmint, Chocolate, Organge, Apple, Mint Mojito, Mint Julip
- Tyme - English, Posey, Lemon
Dried Herbs
Lisa's Soap

Pumpkins and Squash

With the turning of the calendar page we are now in October and our thoughts turn to fall. Pumpkins and squash are one of the treats of fall. Our crop of both pumpkins and squash is one of the best we have had.

Pumpkins

Large 30-40 pound Jack-O-Lantern did very good this year. Excellent shape and mega sized handles. We had such a difficult spring that I started some of the longer season pumpkins in 4 inch pots in early May. They were fully mature by early September.

Medium 10-15 pound Jack-O-Lantern with excellent handles were also mature by early September.

Pie pumpkins - Two tried and true varieties. New England Pie and Winter Luxury Pie.

Cinderella Pumpkins - Beautiful bright orange. Flat oblate shape.

Fairytail Pie Pumpkins - Extremely dense. European pie pumpkins. Deep orange flesh. Green to brown color.

Squash

Acorn - large acorn, honey bear - small personal size

Spaggeti - large standard size, small personal size, both have outstanding flavor

Butternut - medium size and small personal size.

Carnival - large colorful sweet dumpling type

Jester - striped acorn

Delicata - striped, sweet potato squash

Small Orange Hubbard - Hubbard flavor in a small package

Orange and Blue Kabotcha

Buttercup - old standby sweet squash







Thursday, October 3, 2013

Green Beans

Green beans in Minnesota on October 1st. It is an anomaly that I have not seen in a long time. We are starting our second new row of tender young beans in two weeks. Wow they are great. We took two bushel to market last week and sold them all. I suppose that other folks may not have planted beans for this late in the season so the supply may be getting short.

I didn't really plan on picking beans this late and planted them mainly for soil building. But it is very cool to have the extra late crop.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is taking carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil or plant material growing in the soil. The more organic matter in the soil, the more carbon you have locked up in the matrix.

In this post we will look at the science of soil building and sequestering carbon.

There are some more stable forms of organic matter that last a long, long time. Such as lignins, the organic matter remaining after woody plants break down.

Charcoal is the carbon matrix that remains after the water and terpines are remove at high heat in the absence of oxygen.

I was exploring the best ways to sequester carbon and stumbled upon some ideas from the ancient peoples of Central America. The Incas would improve their soils by adding biochar (charcoal) to their compost piles and then incorporate this into the soil where they grew their crops. This enrichment was so good that now hundreds or even thousands of years later these soils are mined and sold as a soil amendment or fertilizer in garden centers.

Reed and I were playing around with making charcoal from wood on the farm. We used several steel trash cans to limit oxygen and heated the "reactor vessel" using junk wood from the farm. We sold the big chunks at the farmers market for sustainable BBQs. But there are a lot of small pieces and dust that we incorporated into the soil. This form of carbon is very biologically active, similar to clay particles when it comes to exchanging nutrients with the plants. So when you first apply the biochar it may take some time to load up on nutrients. This can be accelerate by mixing the biochar with compost or other biologically active materials to speed things up.

With this approach it is possible to lock up carbon for 100's of years and enrich the soil. Interesting how those two things go together. When you look for one solution it is highly probably you can find other solutions as well.

I haven't gotten back to the charcoal making recently, but the beds where I used the charcoal are doing well.

More on this later.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Texas Basket Company

We get asked a lot where we get our display baskets and little boxes. The answer is the Texas Basket Company.

We often have to explain that we need those cute little baskets back and we recycle them many times in a Saturday morning.

If you'd like to order baskets for a craft or something. They can help you. The baskets are of good quality and reasonably priced. They are made in the US.