Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holistic Management - The Power of Paradigms

Holistic Management, A New Framework for Decision Making, by Alan Savory

A Book Summary

In this summary of Holistic Management I quote freely from Alan Savory's book but summarize the main points. Kind of a Cliff Notes version. Don't be put off by the focus on grazing and agriculture. This is great stuff for managing your family or business.

The Power of Paradigms

A 100 years ago we would not have had the knowledge or tools to make good decisions on land management in brittle environments, we now have four key insights that can influence our decisions, they are:

  1. A holistic perspective is essential in management. If we base management decisions on any other perspective, we are likely to experience results different from those we desire because only the whole is reality.
  2. Environments can be classified as nonbrittle to very brittle according to how well humidity is distributed through out the year and how quickly vegetation breaks down. Resting land restores nonbrittle environments, but damages the land in very brittle environments.
  3. In brittle environments, relatively high numbers of large, herding animals, concentrated and moving as they naturally do in the presence of pack-hunting predators, are vital to maintaining the health of lands we thought they destroyed.
  4. In any environment, overgrazing and damage from trampling bear little relationship to the numbers of animals, but rather to the amount of time plants and soils are exposed to the animals.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Holistic Management

Holistic comes from a Greek word meaning whole, entire and total. Holistic management in agriculture is a system thinking approach to managing resources that was originally developed by Allan Savory for reversing desertification. Savory concluded that the spread of deserts, the loss of wildlife, and the human impoverishment that always resulted were related to the reduction of the natural herds of large grazers and even more, the change in the behavior of the remaining herds. Livestock could be substituted to provide ecosystem modification like nutrient cycling when mimicking the wild grasses and grazers.

Managers found that while rotational grazing systems can work for diverse management purposes, scientific experiments had demonstrated that they do not necessarily work for specific ecological purposes. An adaptive management plan was needed for the integration of the experiental with the experimental,  as well as the social with biophysical, to provide a more comprehensive framework for the management of rangeland systems. None of these sources of knowledge could be understood except in the context of the whole. Holistic management was developed to meet this need.

While developed as a tool for range land use and restoring desertified land, the holistic management system can be applied to other areas with multiple complex socioeconomic and environmental factors.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Farming Lessons From Noah the Patriarch

A story to contemplate on this Thanksgiving weekend. We are spending some time with family and I will resume posts next week.

I believe that men are happiest when they are pursuing a big awesome vision and behind that vision is a life changing purpose.

In Genesis 6:14-16 God told the patriarch Noah that he was to build an ark 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 40 feet deep. That was one big boat! God gave him 120 years to finish the task.

Just for fun let us see what can we learn from how Noah might have proceeded. I'm reading between the lines here a little because scripture doesn't give us all the details, but it might have been something like this:

  1. Noah had three sons. He worked with and trained them. He gave them age appropriate tasks to do and then followed up to guide their progress.
  2. Noah rewarded his boys for their work and worked with them to save, spend and give.
  3. Noah guided his sons in their relationships and choice of wives.
  4. Noah was going to need lumber so he might have planted a few thousand acres of cypress trees. He had 100 years for the trees to mature
  5. Noah was going to need large amounts of hay and grain. So he learned to grow these as well.
  6. Noah learned to preserve his harvest as he would need to have enough stored up for a year in the ark and most of a season until crops could be grown again. He likely canned a years supply of salsa.
  7. Noah had learned to save for a "rainy day" and was able to hire some skilled craftsmen for certain areas of construction where he was not an expert.
  8. Noah worked closely with these skilled craftsman and was soon able to go to the Mesopotamian version of  "Home Depot" and get the tools he needed.
  9. Noah was widely read and studied up on things like timber construction techniques and veterinary science (the zoo and exotic animal version).
  10. Noah also had one of the best grape vine collections on the planet, since it was ultimately the only grape vine collection on the planet.
Like Noah my vision has been to work with my family teach them life skills that will serve and protect them as they look to the future. My work and the farm have been my big awesome tasks. Not quite as big or awesome as Noah's. But awesome nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Pointer

One of the first posts I wrote when we started this blog was one on how to make a pumpkin pie and how to cook a pie pumpkin.

This post also has about 20 different pie variations.

Check out the December 29, 2012 post.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hockey Stick Effect in Learning

I didn't play hockey as a child so I don't know a lot about the sport. This post is not about hockey but learning, let me explain. The hockey stick effect was initially a term used by climatologist Jerry Mahlman to describe the "disputed" rapid rise in the temperature record of the past 1000 years after a period of relative stablility. The period of relative stability is the handle of the hockey stick and the rapid rise is the blade of the hockey stick. The hockey stick effect could also describe the rapid rise in the national debt under the last two presidential administrations and the rapid rise in the price of corn over the last 5 years.

I wanted to use this hockey stick concept to think about the learning needed to be successful in farming. I have found that the learning curve while substantial is typically uniform for the first few years as skills are learned, varieties are explored and markets are expanded. Then if seems that multiple factors align and the farm revenue often multiplies rapidly is a short period of years. In my experience, the knee of the curve seems to be around 8 to 10 years.

This hockey stick concept also seems to be the pattern followed in the learning development of our children. The children go through a grammar stage learning the rules of phonics, spelling, mathematics and science. They then learn logic in middle-school and understand the cause and effect in different fields of knowledge when their capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. This is followed by a rhetoric stage that builds on the knowledge of the first two. I have really appreciated the ability of our high school students to write and speak with originality in clear and forceful analysis. As a father I have enjoyed reading papers and hearing the speeches from our children. The conversation around the supper table also takes on greater coherence and intensity. So we progressed along a gradual path of learning and then experience an explosion of topics, in-depth discussion and synthesis of ideas as our children prepare to enter the adult world. This is a very cool process to watch unfold.

Whether farm or home the hockey stick prevails.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence may sound like one of those oxymorons like "deafening silence", "random order", or "virtual reality". But it is actually a key concept in leadership theory. Many successful leaders have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), excellent experience and wisdom. IQ and personality are relatively fixed and won't change significantly. But EQ is flexible and can be developed throughout our lives.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and the ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships, according to Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves, in TalentSmart.

The research shows that in roles of moderate to high complexity, people with high IQ outperform those with average IQ just 20% of the time. People with average IQ outperform those with high IQ 70% of the time. So IQ and technical expertise are enablers, but not sufficient to make a star performer. So what is the missing ingredient?

The research shows that 1/3 of superior performance is accounted for by IQ while 2/3 is a function of EQ. A second study found that high EQ leaders exceeded performance targets by 15% on average, while low EQ leaders underperformed by about the same amount.

The conclusion is that IQ will get you hired. But it is EQ that sets us apart and will get you promoted.

For the same reason that the ambivert can excell at sales, the person with high EQ has the people skills to excell in leadership.

Learning to hone these skills can benefit the farmer in marketing, leading in his field, and persuading others to follow.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Our Customers Are the Best

Our customers are the best; we see them week in and week out during the growing season. They are the most dedicated and friendly group that a farm family could ever wish for. Some times I am working to restock the tables with my back turned and I hear a friendly voice and I know exactly who that smiling face will be.

Just this last week I had a mom bring her daughter and fiance around to introduce me, I felt very honored when they didn't see me working the tables and took the time to look in back where I was bagging up some carrots.

The dedication is never more evident than when it rains all Saturday morning long and we still have 400-500 customers stop by and do their shopping. You know they really want to be there when they are willing to shop with an umbrella in one hand.

I really like to watch the parents that are being intentional about teaching their children to buy
produce. Often these same parents are helping their children learn food preparation as well. Once in a while we run into a youngster who isn't quite sure they will like what mom or dad is buying and my teenagers often step in to promote a sweet leaf of spinach or a scrumptious carrot.

I also like to encourage the young men (boys) to help mom carry their produce. It gives me some rapor with them and encourages a little chivalry, which isn't dead (only sleeping) in our society. This may be one of the few male influences these children have, so I'd like it to be a good one. Reed our 15 year old son can also help with this.

Our customers are also very honest and patient with us. If we mess up on the change we ask their forgiveness and fix it. If we give them back to much, they retun the difference. Pretty cool. We also take checks and I have had only one time in 17 years that we didn't get paid.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Market Menu for November 23

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, November 23, 2013. We are at the fair ground for winter market this week.

Brussels Sprouts
Pumpkins - Decorating, Cinderella
Winter Squash - Acorn, Spaghetti, Delicata, Orange Hubbard, Butternut, Buttercup, Orange Kuri, Kubotcha
Pie Pumpkins - New England Pie, Winter Luxury
Red Onions
Sweet Spanish Onions
Chipolini Onions
Kale - Regular
Fresh Cut Herbs - Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Salsa - Roasted Roma, Heirloom, Cherry Tomato
Lisa's Soap

Brussels Sprout Slaw

One of the challenges in the late fall and early winter is to come up with creative salad options that use seasonal vegetables. The slaw recipe uses Brussels sprouts, carrots, red onions and apples. All are readily available in November and December in Minnesota.


1 Quart Brussels Sprouts finely chopped
1 Large carrot, grated
1 Small Red Onion, finely sliced
1 Apple, cored and sliced into slivers
1 cup pecans
A sprinkle of  cayenne or chiptole pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon coarse brown or Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper to Taste


Use one tablespoon of the maple syrup to mix with the pecans. When well mixed sprinkle with a little of your favorite pepper. Set the oven to 200F and toast for 10 minutes. The pecans will stick to the cookie sheet, so you will have to scrape lose.

Mix 3 tablespoons maple syrup, the mustard, salt, pepper. Wisk with the olive oil.

Toss with the Brussels sprouts, carrots, onion and apple. Let sit for 30 minutes to blend flavors.

The slaw can be used as a salad or as a garnish on a sandwich.

You may not have this available but I also added a large tablespoon of poblano relish to the dressing. This provided a little zip without being too spicy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Farmers Blend Order and Chaos

To be chaordic is to harmoniously blend characteristics of both order and chaos in a pattern dominated by neither.

The definition of chaordic sounds like cryptic double speak to this farmer. So beside expanding our vocabulary of obscure words what does this mean?

The idea is to be flexible by embracing change while still maintaining enough order and continuity that your farm is successful.

Joel Salatin, that sage of farm wisdom, says that you can be a Buddhist or a nudist, but you can't be both a Buddhist and a nudist at the same time. Significant change is good, in fact farmers can be a change agent in their communities and in society at large. But too much change will cause you to loose those you are trying to lead and influence.

Here are some examples. Making the transition from conventional to organic production is good. But I have seen farmers who have not studied the requirements sufficiently and therefore were not well prepared. Or maybe they got the idea they they wanted to grow blueberries and their soil was not the right type. Or they wanted to grow 5 acres of raspberries without developing their markets and were not able to sell all the crop. Or they want to grow organic pigs or chickens without having a good source for the very expensive grain required. The list can go on.

Chaordic farmers have the following characteristics:

  • They study and understand the traditional approach to their chosen crops. They mine this knowledge for the best principles and practices.
  • They notice new trends or create them. 
  • They are a catalyst for change in their chosen farming area. They are change agents.
  • They create the conditions of innovation.
  • They facilitate the availability of new knowledge to other farmers and stake holders
  • They balance advocacy of new ideas with investigation of their own ideas.
  • They turn emergent ideas into best practices and teach others to use them
  • The focus on today while implementing innovations that shape the future
  • They create positive disruption and perturb the system
  • They are persistent and patient, if something doesn't work the first time they find a better way
  • They refuse to lose.
There is much wisdom in this list and much opportunity to innovate at the fringes of most agricultural fields. We have found the local farmers market to be a great laboratory for marketing ideas and new product development. We watch for trends, we listen to our most innovative customers, which are often chefs or other innovative eaters.

Occasionally, we lead the trend, because our customers and our competition have caused us to think in this direction. For example, I have been looking for a cost effective source of baby kale seed so I could provide traditional kale to our customers way ahead of the time in the season when regular kale was available. I found some last spring and had a great crop in process. This kale sold way better than I had thought it would and I later found out that kale was a major focus of the Gourmet cooking magazines for the spring season. That definitely helped, but having delicious baby kale was the lynch pin. Was this just dumb luck or had we anticipated a trend. I'll let you be the judge.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Ambivert Advantage

Have you ever been to a car dealership and had to deal with a very aggressive sales personality. Those types of sales people are extroverts. Or have you ever been to a party and seen the person (likely a farmer or engineer) who is quiet and contemplative, who stands to the side enjoying listening to the conversation but not initiating much, they are typically an introvert. The terms introvert and extrovert were first popularized by the psychologist Carl Jung.

So which personality type makes the most sales. A research program led by Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business found that both personality types sold  approximately the same. Yes the introverts sold about as much as the extroverts. I would not have expected that result. We all know by virtue of our culturally biased beliefs, that the extroverts sell more right? Well apparently, mostly not, based on the latest business research.

Here is the real break through insight in Adam Grant's research, the ambiverts, people who fall somewhere between extrovert and introvert tend to be the best sales people by a very significant margin of 30%. Extroverts have a cost to their approach, and often exhibit "too much of a good thing". The "ambivert advantage" comes from being assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade the prospective buyer and close, but also listen carefully to customers and avoiding the appearance of being overly confident or excited.

So those of us that are in the middle can be very good persuaders and selling is a part of life. If you are married you have been a great sales person. You work daily to persuade your children. Many of us persuade at work for new initiatives and the value of our contributions. For sure, we are engaged in persuasion at the farmers market.

In the past when a farmer lived in small communities with people who they grew up with they did not need a strong emphasis on persuasion. Everyone knew each other, what they could do and who they were. This is not true today. The farmer who wants to market to his neighbors in the city must persuade or sell the value of his or her products. Selling is a skill that farmers can cultivate and be really good at. The latest business research says this is true, we just have step into the light and learn some new skills.

Winter time on the farm is a time to plan, to think and to learn. The sales potential of the ambivert farmer is something to think about and plan to implement in your next selling season. If farming is not your occupation you can also apply this in your career.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Farming in a VUCA World

VUCA is a term coined by our armed forces and is an acronym that stands for.
  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous
The weather alone this last year was extremely VUCA. A record snowfall in May and 50 tornadoes in November, for example

So how does a farmer and the families he serves deal with the elements of uncertainty and complexity?

Here are some ideas.
  • Diversify - don't put all your eggs in the same basket. We grow 50 different crops and 150 different varieties. If weather or disease is unfavorable the other crops will take up the slack. For example, this last spring we had a very poor garlic crop. When that became evident, I used the well composted rows to plant carrots, beets and a couple more rows of onions. 
  • Eliminate Debt - Getting out of debt and having 3-6 months of expenses in an emergency fund can smooth out a lot of financial uncertainty. Can you imagine how much more profitable your farm can be if you have no debt payments
  • Save for the Future - Financial advisers recommend 15% of annual income.
  • Grow and shop locally. Short lines of transportation mean no disruptions. Local dollars spent stay in the local economy and are multiplied may times.
  • Learn to adapt to change:  new tools, better versions of old tools, new ideas, reemergence of sound old ideas. New learning techniques like on-line learning.
  • Respect for the environment and stewardship of our resources, soils, energy and recycling.

Monday, November 18, 2013

May I Be Excused My Brain is Full

Garry Larson in his insightful Far Side cartoon has a picture of a student in a classroom saying, "Please may I be excused as my brain is full."  As a farmer in a fast changing world, I often feel this way. The increased complexity of today's farm environment means that effective and timely learning is essential to support successful farm businesses.

Dr. Lila Davachi and Tobias Kiefer, with Booz & Company have studied the adult learning environment and their findings have led to the acronym AGES, which stands for:
  • Attention
  • Generation
  • Emotion
  • Spacing
Let's talk about the implications of their research on learning for farmers and other training environments.


People pride themselves on their ability to multi-task. Dr. Amy Arnsten at Yale has studied the impact on divided attention and concluded that multi-tasking minimises the effectiveness for the current task and also diminishes ability for other tasks. So multi-tasking can lead to the "my brain is full" mental bottleneck. Being able to focus is one of the keys to learning. Excellent vehicles for focused learning are reading books, listening to on-line content and seminars in areas of interest.


Farms are a great laboratory for trial of new ideas and learning. We pick some new and sometimes "weird ideas" to try every season. These new ideas help to consolidate our learning process and generate our own unique ideas from the original base of learned material. This is the idea of generation. If the learning moves from head knowledge to practice and then to specific application in our unique situation. Then generation has taken place. This is my personal favorite of the AGES framework. (As you probably guessed, the weird ideas are my own interpretation.)


Emotional links to learning will support a strong memory of the subject material. Dr, Evian Gordon talks about the brain organizing principle as "minimizing threat and maximizing reward", in that order. Maximum learning occurs when associations are positive and negative associations are minimized. So strong emotion can effect the learning process. The more positive the emotion the more likely learning will be retained.


The research also shows that timing and spacing between learning events enhances learning. The brain takes time to hard-wire the the new knowledge. So a weekly seminar to learn a farm topic would more strongly reinforce the subject material than a weekend seminar in which all the information is shared at once. The research shows that the best way to ensure long-term encoding and retrieval was to have breaks between learning sessions and then to test recall at the start of the next learning session. The effort involved in recall at the later time increased the retention of learning. Testing was key to the retention.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Cure for All Diseases

Compost tea is one of the broadest defenses against most plant diseases. When the tea is sprayed on the foliage, harmful organisms are neutralized and places where harmful organisms can attack are protected by a film of friendly organisms.

You make "tea" by immersing aerobic cured compost in a burlap or cloth bag in a 5 gallon pail of water. Let it sit for an hour or so to soak good. Then remove the bag and squeeze out the water. What is left is a rich brown color. Sprinkle the liquid on tomato, pepper, or eggplants. Actually works great on any type of plant.

Tea is a great mid-season pick-me-up and booster for any type of plants. It is the universal elixir to keep plants happy.

You can get cured compost from the waste to energy site in Rochester for $0.50 a 5 gallon pail or $25 per ton in bulk.

If you want to read more about compost tea, see work by Elan Engram on "The Soil Food Web" and Steve Diver from ATTRA.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Market Menu for November 16, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, November 16, 2013. We are at the fair ground for winter market this week.  (New items are in Bold Print)

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
Watermelon - 6 varieties, Amazing (We are bringning 30 melons this week.)
Red Onions
Sweet Spanish Onions
Chipolini Onions
Kale - Regular
Baby Cilantro
Fresh Cut Herbs - Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Cilantro, Thyme
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap

10 Ideas for Personal and Family Success

I was thinking about elements for success for a family and a farm. Here are my top 10.
  1. Have a strong faith.
  2. Mary the right person. Someone with similar values and faith
  3. Make your family a top priority.
  4. Handle money well. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt and save for the future.
  5. Be generous and give. To church, to the poor and to your family.
  6. Work at something you enjoy. Farming is a great career.
  7. Under promise and over deliver to your customers.
  8. Be persistent in reaching your farming goals.
  9. Be honest and loyal.
  10. Be innovative and open to change in your farm.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

10 Favorite Vegetables at Our House

If you have a lot of something you are wealthy. We are rich beyond measure with vegetables this year. Share the wealth baby!

  1. Candy Carrots
  2. Heirloom Tomatoes
  3. Walla Walla Sweet Onions
  4. Jalapeno and sweet Peppers
  5. Cherry Tomatoes
  6. Watermelon
  7. Cantaloupe
  8. Sweet Corn
  9. Garlic and Shallots
  10. Baby Potatoes
Do I have to stop with 10?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Pick Great Brussels Sprouts

This time of year one of the last plants standing is brussels sprouts. They are very frost hardy and get sweeter with first frosts. So how to pick the best ones.

The sprout enlargement typically starts at the base of the plant. So the largest and firmest sprouts start at the base of the plant (unless you have a dry year and then the largest sprouts may be at the top). We clip the top of the stalk about September 1 so the sprouts will enlarge uniformly. Triva aside how to pick the best ones.

Look for the firmest and medium size.

Yellowing of the leaves may indicate that the sprouts are old and have been picked several weeks previous. When the leaves are out of the sunlight they can yellow.

One of the restaurants that buys from us uses the sprouts for making a slaw and I don't think the firmness of the sprouts makes much difference for that use. Sprout slaw is quite good.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Pick Excellent Fall Broccoli

Broccoli does well in the cold weather each fall. We harvest some main heads but it is mostly the side shoots. Firm and small beads work the best for cold weather.

I like the variety called Marathon for fall. It is very cold hardy and robust.

I've sometimes pick broccoli for Thanksgiving with ice in the heads. But even broccoli will sucumb to temps below the low 20's. If you are heading into such weather. Cut your heads and shoots and put them in the refrigerator. They will keep 3 weeks or more and you won't have to worry about those little green worms.

Monday, November 11, 2013

But Dad...No One Else Has to Do This!

My children haven't always liked the discipline of having to do farm work and get up early (4:30 AM) on Saturday mornings to go to the Farmer's Market:
  • They often observe that NO ONE ELSE had to do the things they had to do. (This was true. But none of their friends had the level of experience they had and none of them made the amount of money they were making either. You can't sleep until noon and watch TV all summer and pile up money for college at the same time.)
  • They would say that EVERYONE ELSE got to do fun stuff when ever they wanted to and sometimes fun stuff had to take second priority for them. (This was not as true as they thought. Many other children were not able to do what ever they wanted when they wanted. I submit that our children were probably more involved in attending school, church and skill building events than most. We ran into situations frequently where their friends had to attend a family event or were on restriction and couldn't participate in something fun. I've never "grounded" one of our children for a rule infraction. I guess we keep them busy enough that they don't have time to get in trouble. They also have done well at their choice of friends.)
  • However, because they LIVED LIKE NO ONE ELSE growing up 
  • They now have discipline, experience, knowledge, life skills and savings for their futures like NO ONE ELSE. So sometimes it is very good to be like NO ONE ELSE.
The point was not to make them farmers, though they are very good at that. But to teach them skills and values that are transferable to any future endeavor. So my children can make choices and seek opportunities where ever God would lead them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How to Pick Great Seed Garlic

Mid October to mid November is time to plant garlic here in Rochester, Minnesota. But how to pick the right garlic to plant. One of the best ways to pick a variety that does well in your location is to ask a local grower or gardener about varieties that work well in your area. I like two varieties here, Music and German White. Now we have selected a variety, how do you know which bulbs to pick.

An the answer is, you pick the ones with the biggest cloves. If the variety you have chosen has small cloves then save the small ones to eat and plant the biggest. Music has cloves as big as your thumb and those are the babies you want.  The bigger ones have more energy and make a larger more robust plant.

A good organic fertilizer will get you off to a good start and make for an excellent launch in the spring.

The cloves need about two weeks to root and get locked into the soil before freeze up.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to Select a Great Watermelon

How to pick a great watermelon. Due to the longer growing season and late frost this year we have had 100's of watermelon late in the season. We have sold about 150 melons over the last two weeks of the end of October and early November.

Needless to say I have some experience on the subject of, "picking a great watermelon".

One of the first indications of a ripe melon in the field is the turning of the tendril brown closest to the melon.

A second indication is the turning of the spot that touches the ground a creamy color instead of white. The dark green varieties like black diamond get an almost yellow spot.

A third measure is a deep resonant thump of the melon along with being heavy for its size.

Friday, November 8, 2013

How to Pick a Great Squash

There are many types of squash, so how do know if one is fully mature.

I resist using the term ripe here as it is more of a curing process than a ripening. Most of the darker squash like acorn or kubotcha develop an orange splash where the squash touches the ground. So what if the squash is suspended and doesn't touch the ground. Well the squash still matures but doesn't have the orange splash. It is typically a dark green or grey (if it is lighter green then it is probably not mature).

Even some of the lighter squash get this orange color. For example, Delicata, Carnival and Jester. The effect is more subtle with just the stripes exhibiting the color change. The orange color comes from the blanching of the ground contact point a little like the the changing of the color of the leaves on a tree. The orange color is always there on a ripe squash but you can't see it until the green is blanched by lack of contact with light.

Other squash like orange kubotcha or orange hubbard probably get the orange splash but since they are already orange it isn't prominent.

Spaghetti squash don't get the orange splash at all but mature to a beautiful golden yellow. There is one variety they turns a deep orange and has a more orange flesh.

Butternut also do not get the orange splash but look for the darker classic butternut brown color. This does vary from variety to variety a bit. There are some new varieties with a more compact vine and fruit that I like a lot. The Waltham Butternuts get so large that they can be a bit much for a small family. Butternuts make a great pie if you find you have more than needed for a meal.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Select a Great Leek

I have watched countless customers select leeks over the years and they often don't select the ones with the most usable leek. I watched one customer last week carefully pick the leeks with the best leaves and pass by leeks where we had removed most of the leaves (to get it to fit in the tub we transport them in). The leeks that were passed over had nearly 3X the usable leek and would store as long or longer than the "pretty" ones. Okay so how do you pick a great leek?

First a lesson in leek anatomy. The usable part of the leek is from the roots to the leaves. The longer the shank (this region from the roots to the leaves) is, the more usable leek there is. Diameter is good too. There is no advantage to a smaller leek diameter in terms of tenderness.

Do leeks need to be buried to blanch the shanks.  Well you can if you like but I have not found there to be much difference.

So if this is the case, why are all the leeks in the stores short and stubby. I'll let you ponder this a moment before I give you the reason............... OK, time's up. It is because these short stubby dwarf leeks fit on the shelf! How is that for a value proposition.

The leeks we grow are tall stately, have great flavor, and offer 3x the value of the typical store bought leek. We also grow the leeks in a highly mineralized soil with excellent compost. So you get flavor, nutrition and great value all in one.

See my post on potato leek soup and leek fritters for some serving ideas.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fall Tillage

Fall tillage is one of the best ways to be kind to your soil. If you can incorporate crop residue in the fall the break down process will begin and by spring the soil will be ready for the next crop. I like to leave as much residue on top of the soil as possible while creating as much contact with the soil as possible. It is the contact with the soil microrganisms that causes the break down.

Fall tillage also gives the soil the ability to recover from a minor amount of compaction through multiple freeze and thaw cycles. This restores the soil tilth and crumb structure. The heavier the soil the more beneficial the freeze and thaw action.

That is why the farmers of old did their plowing in the fall, the only problem with plowing is the residue is turned under and a plow pan maybe created. Also bare soil can be affected by wind errosion.

The rototillers leave some residue on the surface and mix the soil well. I like that better. It is OK to go not till as well. The tiller can make a great seed bed once things settle down in the spring.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Potato Leek Soup - Potage Parmentier

Leeks are great this time of year and are hardy even with the deep cold. We will leave them in the field until freeze up so we can get maximum storage. 

Lets talk about what we can do with these beauties. Potato leek soup comes to mind.  Here is a classic recipe.


1 pound of potatoes (I like Carola or Yukon Gold)
3 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable stock (or light chicken stock)
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup creme faiche
1/3 cup minced chives


In a stock pot, saute leek and potato until softened and browned slightly, about 10 minutes
Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes
Blend until smooth using an immersion blender
Add the cream and season to taste with salt and add lemon juice
Ladle into a bowl and garnish with a spoon of creme fraiche and minced chives

Monday, November 4, 2013

Double Digging

Double digging your garden beds will pay dividends for decades. Double digging means going 24 to 36 inches deep with a potato fork or other flat tined fork. You incorporate compost and fertilizer as you dig. In my opinion this is the Cadillac of gardening approaches.

You can find the complete method in John Jeavens, "How to Grow More Vegetables". If you don't want to purchase a copy (which is highly recommended) the library has several.  When I was gardening on a much smaller scale I double dug all our beds. I would do 8-10 of the 100 square foot beds a year until I eventually had dug about a 10,000 square feet or about 1/4 of an acre.

I made my own digging board and a broad fork about two feet wide for bed maintenance. I still have the fork that was cut and welded by hand. My brother then painted it a metallic grey with some left over base coat and clear coat automotive paint. We should have done pin stripes.

I took several seminars from John Jeavens and found his approach quite thoughtful. I have binders full of his class notes. We used to correspond a little and he occasionally referred folks in this area to me for help getting started.

When ultra-blond Reed was three I sent a picture to John Jeavens of Reed stretching on tip toes to pick a cherry tomato with an absolutely crystal clear blue sky in the back ground. He put it in their news letter that month. It was a great picture.

I wrote an article for John's new letter that I'll put in a future blog.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Brian's Corn Bread and Poblano Recipe

I was hungry for some corn bread Sunday night so I made up this recipe from things I had on hand. I had been making some poblano relish and jelly earlier in the day so I finely chopped about a cup of poblano peppers to put into it. I had dried some sweet corn kernels this summer and made the corn meal by processing it in a coffee grinder I use for flax. I only needed a cup so could do several hand fulls this way. I also had some sweet corn fresh frozen from this summer and I added some grated carrots for good measure. I also used some farm fresh eggs we got from a neighbor. The whole mixture went into a cast iron skillet that I bought used and reconditioned last year. So here is my improvised recipe.


Coconut Oil or Butter to Grease the Pan
1 cup corn meal (I used sweet corn kernels, but you can use any corn)
1 cup organic flour (can be wheat, rice, etc.)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup poblano or jalapeno peppers diced finely
1 cup shredded carrots (adds moisture and color and flavor)
1 cups fresh frozen corn kernels
8 ounces Greek yogurt or sour cream (I had yogurt so I used that)
1/2 cup milk, a little more if the batter seems dry
3 large beaten eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter


Heat oven to 400F. Preheat skillet for 10 minutes.

Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients. Mix everything together thoroughly.

Add coconut oil to the pan and make sure you get the side oily.

Add batter to the pan and distribute evenly.

Bake approximately 30 minutes. Check every 5 minutes after 25 minutes as ovens and pans vary somewhat.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

I really liked the way this turned out, just the right amount of sweet and hot (not very hot, but a little for flavor).

Serving suggestions:

Honey or Maple Syrup
You can add cheddar cheese instead of carrots.
Bacon would also be a good addition. I had some but didn't take time to make it.
The finished corn "bread" reminds me of a fococia. I'm going to try to use the cooled "loaf" as a sandwich bread.
This would go well with a savory chili or corn chowder.
I think pork and beans would also go well.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

WInter Market Starts Today

Winter market starts this week, Saturday from 9:00 to 12:00. It will be at the fair ground in building 41 next to Graham Arena. Watch for the signs.

Hope to see you there!

How to plant Garlic

Planting garlic in Rochester, Minnesota should occur between October 15 to November 15. That is approximate, and the real goal is two weeks before freeze up.

I like to put down a strip of compost about three inches thick and 12 inches wide to make a slight raised bed. We then plant one row of garlic down the middle of the compost strip and space the garlic about 4 inches apart. Don't forget to fertilize liberally underneath the compost before planting. The feritilizer has to last 9 months so I use a good organic fertilizer 8-4-5. 

The cloves will root before freeze up and the roots lock them into the soil, so the frost doesn't heave them out of the ground.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Market menu for November 2, 2013

We will have the following items at the market for Saturday, November 2, 2013. This is our first week of winter market at the fair grounds.  (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
Watermelon - 6 varieties, Amazing (We are bringning 60 melons this week.)
Eggplant 4 bushels this week
Hot Peppers - Jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Ancho & Habernaro
Red Onions
Sweet Spanish Onions
Chipolini Onions
Baby Spring Mix - Lettuce, Beet Greens, Kale (new lettuce bed this week)
Baby Red Russian Kale
Baby Kale - Regular
Baby Cilantro
Sweet Ruby - a fine frilly mustard green, new bed this week
Fresh Cut Herbs - Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Cilantro, Thyme, Dill
Dandelion Greens
Cipotle Smoked Peppers
Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Lisa's Soap