Friday, March 29, 2013

How to Plant Leeks

Planting leeks is a little different than planting onions. The plants look the same when they are small but they have a very different habit during growth and maturity. Leeks do not bulb up like onions so do not need to be on the surface of the ground like onions.

We dig a trench about 8 inches deep and plant the baby leeks in the bottom. Don't forget the fertilizer in the bottom of the trench. If you can put a couple of inches of compost in the trench at this time it will protect the leeks from weeds and provide a season of healthy nutrition in the root zone. (Compost will attract earth worms to the trench which will feed on the compost, the leeks love the worm castings left behind. We often find ooodles of worms around the roots of the leeks that have been blessed with compost.)

After about 4 weeks the leeks should have tripled in size and are firmly rooted. We roll in the edges of the trench filling in the trench about half way. This kills the first flush of weeds. We do this again in 2-3 more weeks. At this point the leeks are buried about 8 inches deep. We hill up soil (or compost) around the leeks.

Growing leeks this way provides for a very long blanched stalk. The usable part of the leek is from the leaves to the roots. Blanching does not really improve the flavor or tenderness, it is mainly cosmetic. But it is the traditional way leeks are prepared.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Jenna and Andrea love strawberries.

Young children are always listening to what we say but may not have the vocabulary to understand what you mean. So, like we all do, they take queues from the context of what is said and what is going on.

I was drinking a grape soda while talking to Lisa one afternoon. I told Lisa I was grateful that the weather was so nice for the farmers market (a wonderful sunny day in June with temperatures in the 70's). Jenna and Andrea were eating fresh strawberries from the farmers market and were listening to us talk. Jenna must have thought I had said I was GRAPE FULL (as in full of grape soda). Because she joined in the conversation and said, nonchalantly and to no one in particular, that she was  BERRY FULL (as in full of strawberries).

I think we could have made up a whole vocabulary with words they made up when they were little.

Shortly after this Andrea and I planted some raspberries and strawberries so they could be BERRY FULL more often. The girls made tunnels through the raspberries. A year or so later, after Reed had learned to walk, any time we needed to know where Reed was the raspberry patch was the place to look.

This story is from when the Kids were very young, June of 1998.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dirt Under Our Finger Nails

Andrea and Jenna were helping me weed some carrots and it had rained the night before so our hands were especially dirty.

Andrea tells Jenna that she has finger nail polish on so her finger nails aren't even getting dirty (even though I can't even see her finger nails for the mud). Her logic was that the finger nails were clean underneath all the mud.

Jenna tells Andrea that she has some polish too and her fingers are just as clean. So they argue back and forth for a few minutes, "No you don't", "Yes I do", "No you don't", etc.

Then Jenna in her loudest outdoor voice says with righteous indignation, "Andrea, I do too have FINGER PRINT POLISH and my hands are clean"!

Then they both giggle at the irony of what they just said and asked if I could help wash their hands.

Andrea had one of these kid sized grocery carts full of weeds at this point. On the last load she started saying "Beep Beep Beep" as she withdrew. I asked her what the funny noise was and she patiently explained, "That is what we do, when we are a truck and we need to back up". This was obvious and I guess their dad is a little slow.

That points out the importance of our perspective. Sometime we need to keep a positive perspective and sometimes we need to acknowledge the truth.

This story is from when the girls were very young, June of 1998.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Peel The Garlic

For those that haven't seen it growing, garlic has a wide blade that looks alot like grass. Garlic is planted around mid October in the fall in Minnesota. It is one of the first things out of the ground in the spring. I had about 8 -10 rows planted in one of our fields that you can see from the road. It was 12 inches tall by mid-April.  It looks very much like corn from the road. Several of the neighbors asked me how I got the corn so big so early (everyone else was just planting their corn).

The girls have helped weed in the garden since they were very little. When Jenna was two she loved to help weed, but dad (me) had to provide a very positive ID for what was a weed and what was not. Garlic is one of the easiest to weed as the tall garlic stalks looked much different than the typical broadleaf weeds in the garlic beds.

Jenna, when she was two, finds some quack grass and with a twinkle in her eye pulls a blade off and says, "Ooooops DaDa I pulled a garlic". (She started calling me DaDa for daddy shortly after Reed was born. She calls Lisa MaMa so I guess I should be DaDa, right?) I turned to investigate and upon inspection I assured her that what she had pulled was not garlic but quack grass. Then she says, "DaDa I didn't hear it quack".

Very early in the season I picked a garlic to help season the croutons for an authentic Caesar salad I would make from some red Romaine lettuce. Thinking back to the previous fall and the way we would peal the onions to get them ready for market. Jenna takes the imature garlic and proceeds to remove all the layers until there was nothing left. When I asked her where the garlic went she said, "All gone DaDa, it disappeared" and so it was.

So if you ever hear the proverbial phrase "peeling the onion" typically used when discovering layer after layer of new information or when teams are solving problems. Think of Jenna and her "peal'n'eat garlic.

We have trialed a number of garlics and most grow very well here. I like Spanish Roja for hardiness and size of the bulbs. The cloves are also very easy to peel.
and flavor. Makes a good black garlic.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Candy Carrots

When carrots have experienced several light frosts the remaining starches turn to sugars. We have trialed many varieties and grow the carrots in the late fall that are the sweetest during cooler weather. The children call them "candy carrots". You have never had such a sweet juicy treat until you've tried our "candy carrots". We eat them in school lunches, snacks, when traveling and even for breakfast.

The carrots need to be planted in late July or early August to reach the appropriate size before the ground freezes.

Kelp, rock powders and liberal compost all enhance the flavors of the carrots. We typically use a strip of compost 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep for planting. We plant directly into the compost and plant 2-3 rows 2 inches apart. No other fertilizer is needed, especially nitrogen.
(Never any chemical fertilizers.)

We harvested about 700 pounds of carrots in November from our late summer planting and they have been simply amazing. It was a very dry year and we had rains at just the right time to keep the carrots going. The compost holds 8 times its weight in water, so that probably help too.

The earliest carrots can be planted right after the ground thaws in the spring.

When to Start Transplants

In Minnesota we have found that the best time to start transplants for Peppers is March 15 and Tomatoes is April 1. If you start earlier the plants can get pretty leggy before you put them out or you need to pot them up.

Watermelon, squash and pumpkin transplants are planted May 1 or they get too large. I usually direct plant these anyway, but it you want to be a few weeks early, you can do it.

I start my transplants in front of several large sunny windows. I used to start them on shelves in the basement under florescent shop lights. I use one cool white bulb and one warm white bulb to get the full spectrum coverage, instead of grow bulbs which are 3x more expensive. I don't do this any more because we remodeled and that space is now carpeted. 

Tomato transplant ready to be planted outside, fresh out of a 10x25 cell flat.I typically start transplanting outside the last week in May or first of June. I have tried to transplant earlier in May and about 75% of the time that one last frost will cause enough damage that the plants are either killed or set back, so there is no benefit. I like to keep the plants warm and happy. One of the reasons we grow enough extra transplants that we take to market, is to replace the plants that others put out early.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It is Time to Buy Seed

I'm buying my seed this week. I like to buy seed in March for the garden. Buying at that time beats the rush and avoids shortages that some times occur later in the season.

My favorite seed suppliers are:
  1. Johnny's, Winslow, Main (Organic)
  2. Jordan Seeds, Woodbury, MN (not organic)
  3. Peaceful Valley, Grass Valley, CA (Organic)
  4. Totally Tomatoes, Randolph, WI (not organic)
I probably buy 90% of our seed from Johnny's, 5% from Peaceful Valley and 5% among the rest.

Jordan Seeds is a small family run seed supplier. They aren't organic but handle untreated seed for some varieties. I have gotten to know them over the years and like to do business with them. I bought our transplanter from them.

One thing I have noticed is it really pays to spend money on good seed and good varieties. If I'm not happy with a variety or want to try a new type of vegetable. I will often select the most expensive seed. What I have found is the best varieties often yield 2-3 times as much and have vastly superior disease resistance. This is very important when you are trying to grow without herbicides.

It will be time to plant peppers and tomatoes soon!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why Start Your Own Transplants

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes and peppers and there are only about 10-15 varieties available in your local garden center. Even with the Chef Jeff heirlooms that are purchased off the truck for many garden centers, you still only have access to a small fraction of the available genetic material that is available.

We have trialed literally hundreds of tomatoes and peppers over 25 years of growing and have selected varieties that work well in Minnesota and for the purposes that we use them for.

For example

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Severe Drought

We are still 20+ inches below normal on rainfall where we live here in Rochester, Minnesota. That is a serious lack of moisture. One of the things that can do to make the best use of the moisture we have is to add organic matter to our soils in the form of compost. Organic matter holds up to 8x its weight in water and stabilizes the soil so the rainfall the does occur is well utilized.

We also minimize tillage under these conditions. Tillage opens the soil and allow a higher level of evaporation from the soil and also creates a highly oxygenated condition that oxidizes the organic matter in the soil.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How To Get a Mediterranean Climate in Minnesota

Did you know that Minnesota has the same latitude as the southern coast of France. This means we get the same amount of light, which is very important for winter growing.

The reason Minnesota is colder is we are land locked and are exposed to the Canadian arctic climate when the jet stream wanders south of us. France is near a warm body of water called the Mediterranean Sea.