Saturday, April 25, 2015

Waterworks 2.0 & Planting Time

This past week marked the beginning of seeding and transplanting in the field, which also meant getting the irrigation up and going. We have changed up our irrigation system and are thrilled at the upgrade. 

We went from a 1" header line (the past few years) to a 1.5" oval hose header. The other change we made was moving from one long section of header, serving the entire field, to three sections. The result we are seeing is better and more consistently even pressure.

Oval hose header line.
Above is a photo of the oval hose header line. When filled it is perfectly round, then flattens to an oval shape when not in use. As soon as we began seeding we began watering, then we were also blessed with 0.15" of rain - happy seeds, happy farmers!

Irrigating the peas.
As always the peas were first to get planted. Snow, snap and shell peas are all in. The first successions of spinach, beets, carrots and kohlrabi were also seeded. Then the first transplants went out - lettuce!

Webb's Wonderful, heirloom lettuce transplants.
The first succession of lettuce is started inside and transplanted out. The second succession of lettuce was direct seeded into the field at the same time. The wood in the photo above is my super handy dandy measuring stick. The most basic tool, but it saves me a lot of time. On one side it has 10" increments, the other has 6" increments.

Winter Density, heirloom lettuce transplants.

The lettuce was planted with Purple Cow Organics Activated Compost, protected with a can and watered in. We use the cans for establishment, for about a week, because it's a bit windy out on the prairie. The lettuce was grown in open flats, which works pretty awesome, but I may try soil blocks in the future, as a comparison, since we will have more room with the new greenhouse.

Farm dog Hazel.
Pullets at 12 weeks.
The little kids started using the big kid feed trough this week - glad they finally discovered it and got up enough gumption to try it out!

At the end of the week John was able to take a mini farm trip down to visit Hoch Orchads and check out their orchard plantings, do a little work and get out of town for a night - thanks Harry and Jackie for the hospitality!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Photo Update 4.14

From the Field

Green things are growing! Rhubarb is up and unfurling. Strawberries have been uncovered and mulch removed, so the plants can reach skyward and green up. Garlic and shallots are growing vigorously and up a bit earlier than last year. The beds are marked out and we are getting ready to start planting in the field in the next week!

We added a new "field" this spring. This new area is dedicated to herb production. The block was tilled, the raised frames filled and now they are under plastic for two weeks to help with weed and grass competition. Brooke is thrilled about this new project. We want to have more herbs available for CSA, Herb Boosters and market; also, we used dried herbs extensively for the natural health and wellness for our livestock.

From the Barnyard

Lots of excitement in the barnyard these days! The ladies are getting nice round, full baby bellies - they will be farrowing in a little over a month. When we place our hands on their bellies we can now feel the piglets!

The chickens are establishing a new pecking order, as we culled the rooster, then let the pullets meet the hens. Edgar was a dear, but he was a little rough with the ladies. We decided we needed to make the tough decision. 

The great chicken integration of 2015 is going swimmingly! The hens and pullets are mixing well and the the pullets made it through their first night in the coop - there was quite a bit of confusion, but that should go better each night. We provide many different feeding stations to make sure the old ladies aren't being hogs, and everyone gets proper access.

Random Shenanigans

Last Friday I went out with John on the annual Owl Monitoring Survey. John goes out every year to do this. We made ten stops, where we listened - in the dark and silence - for five minutes. We heard one great horned owl and one barred owl this time. In 2014 there were 74 volunteers, in Minnesota, that did the owl survey.

From the Greenhouse

What?! The greenhouse?! Technically, in our organic certification paperwork the basement is our "greenhouse" (it does grow green things, and it is in a house!). We are also adding an outdoor greenhouse!!!!!! So excited. The boys finished the footing last weekend, so we are on our way! Thank you Larry and Andy for your help!!

The indoor greenhouse is full of abundance! Herbs, celery, kale, chard, two plantings of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers and ground cherries. More seeds are waiting in the wings for their time to shine. The onions, leeks and lettuce have been moved outside, to make room downstairs and to acclimate to the sun and wind.

Friday, April 10, 2015

More Orchard, Less Lawn

As we have grown our orchard at the farm it feels like giving the lawn more purpose (and less mowing). This past week we added twenty-three heirloom apple trees to the farm orchard! Sixteen new varieties. (Getting a head-start on Arbor Day?!)

New apple trees, in the farm orchard with established
apple, crabapple and pear trees.
We started in 2011 with two apple trees on the farm - an existing Honeycrisp and a Honeygold. During 2012-2014 we planted some pears, plums, honeyberries and crabapples, as we continued to build the home orchard, while managing the Augustine orchard.

Last spring we planted out five of John's first apple grafts (Enigma, Mantet, MN 1628, Wealthy and Sweet 16) and three more plums (LaCrescent and Hanska).

Hazel and the new apple tree plantings.
This year we add the varieties Monarch, Baldwin, Carter's Blue, Golden Russet, Bottle Greening, Crimson Beauty, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, Wismer's Dessert, Red Seek-no-further, Green Pippen, Shiawassee, Spencer, Knobbed Russet, Ortley, Black Ben Davis and Hubbardston Nonesuch. Colors ranging from brown to dark purple-red, to green and yellow. Fresh eating and baking varieties. Ugly and beautiful orbs of splendid flavor.

This winter John grafted 100 more trees, which we will plant out shortly into their nursery beds, and then be planted out to their permanent locations in 2016. Grafts expand the stock of varieties we currently have, as well as add to our list with Stark, Porter, Smokehouse, Christmas Pearmain, and Hooples Antique Gold.

Plan to expand your apple palate folks, we have a lot of good fruit coming down the pipeline!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hold the potatoes!

Tater Time?

Around here folks seem to get really excited about planting potatoes around Easter weekend, but hold your potatoes! It's a bit too early.

Monday brought the delivery of our seed potatoes - I was excited to get them, so we could wake them up and prepare them for planting May 1st.

While the soil is much more workable at this time than the last couple of springs, planting potatoes is more about a suitable environment beneath the soil than just being able to get your tools in the ground.

Soil temp April 7th, Madelia, MN.
Potatoes like to be planted when the soil is 55-60°. The Tuesday soil temp was a chilly 41°, a different field location Monday read 46°.

Two ways to know when to plant your 'taters:

• Use a handy-dandy thermometer, like the one above, and watch for temps to reach 55-60°.

• Use phenology - plant when the first dandelions bloom.

Cool soil, especially cool moist soil, increases the risk of your tubers rotting in the ground. They need a little time to break dormancy, before they begin sprouting, during this time they are more susceptible to rot.

Can't Wait?

If you can't keep your hands off your 'taters and you, like most gardeners, are itching to do garden workm then get your seed potatoes and work on "chitting" (or "greensprouting") them. Chitting potatoes can take 10-14 days off growing time in the field and perhaps increase yield.

We received our potatoes and then promptly stored them in a slightly warmer location to let them "wake up" or break dormancy, and eventually grow little green sprouts.

We are planting six varieties this year, with two new (Mountain Rose and Kennebec) and one new-old variety (Green Mountain), in addition to our current standards - German Butterball, Nicola and Sangre. One-hundred-twenty pounds of seed potatoes.


Simply search for 'chitting potatoes' directions differ slightly from source to source
Growing Potatoes Successfully (The Maine Potato Lady, our seed source)
7 Ways to Grow Potatoes (Rodale's Organic Life)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

CSA Partner :: Moody Bees Honey

We are excited about our partnership with Moody Bees Farm this season - CSA and Farm Share members can now sign up for a "CSA Add-on Share" of their honey products, for delivery with our produce! The link to order form is below and we'll send it out with the next pre-season newsletter as well.

Moody will have four hives out at Alternative Roots Farm this year - how awesome! We are thrilled to work with other beginning farmers and to bring more local, sustainable choices to our membership.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Herd in Flux

Our herd, otherwise known as a "drift," of pigs has gone through quite a few changes since January. In the end it is all positive, but there have been a couple bumps in the road - just enough to keep things interesting.
Suzy is a snuggler.
This all began with us physically trying to create change. A failed attempt at AI (artificial insemination) produced a bit of frustration, but hey, we wouldn't know until we tried, right? Expensive lesson learned. Enough about that.

With the ladies needing to be bred, and not wanting to rush a search for a boar, we shipped Vera, Suzy and Elsa off for a little romantic getaway with Buddy. They were away for nine days and it was so quiet! Dafney and PBJ soaked up the attention in their absence.

Elsa snoozing and Vera yawning - these two are really buddies.
When the girls came back it was clear that they had bonded and there was now a slight division between the two groups. Vera has always been the alpha female, but now she was picking on the other two a bit. Nothing horrible, they just weren't getting along the same the way they were before. So, we opened the other half of the barn and things settled down. The pigs then began sleeping in different pigs piles every single time they slept, alternating sides of the barn.

Suzy, PBJ and Dafney snoozing.
January passes into February with a hopefully successful breeding and an introduction of a new herd member on the horizon! The first task in selecting a boar was deciding on a breed and the Glouchestershire Old Spot (GOS) traits looked promising for what we are aiming for with our herd.

(Warning: Hog breed tangent, skip ahead to avoid the nerdiness, or read on!) 

Vera is a North American Guinea Hog/Ossabaw Island cross. Elsa and Suzy have those same genetics, with some GOS genetics, as well as a bit of Duroc and Hampshire. So basically they are lovely heritage mutts. You can see more Duroc in Suzy and a lot of Ossabaw in Elsa.

Two years ago we started with a Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross and we really loved their temperament, size and foraging qualities. These breeds bring qualities of winter hardiness, efficiency of turning forage into meat, delicious fat, docility and the smaller size we are looking for. The Guinea Hog is a threatened species and the Ossabaw a critical species. They have a final weight of 150-200 lbs. Also, their darker skin removes the issue of sunburn, but we need to make sure they have a good wallow in the summer so they don't overheat.

We chose to introduce the GOS, to the Guinea Hog/Ossabaw cross, to produce a pig that would grow a little faster and larger, while maintaining a docile temperament and excellent foraging qualities. With a finishing weight of 275-300, GOS are excellent grazers and foragers. They are well known for their docility, intelligence and large liter size. They are also referred to as the "orchard pig" and are the royal pigs for the British Royal Family.

Side note: For further nerdery, check out the Mangalitsa, which is what the ladies were bred to - it's like a hairy dog-pig.

(End tangent...)

Sir Renfred, in his first few days with us.
Enter Sir Renfred - a pure GOS boar (intact male) who is now five months old. We specifically wanted a young boar, so we could socialize him ourselves. While the ladies are bred now, towards the end of the year Sir Renfred will begin his sire-ly duties. We chose a British name, for fun, and settled on Renfred for the meaning "mighty, but peaceful" as we surely hope, with a top weight of 600 lbs, that this sweet little guy will possess those qualities! Although, Abraham, meaning "father of many" was a close contender.

This was our first time introducing a new member to the drift (herd), which meant pig quarantine, a common practice. Shortly we will be introducing everyone to each other. For now, the ladies gaze longingly in his direction. The next step will be to meet across a fence, then finally everyone will get to hang out! In this time he is gaining a bit of size (just over 100 lbs now), it will be nice to have him a little larger come meet-and-greet time.

Dafney was a sweetheart from day one.
The next fluctuation was the hardest and it came in the form of harvest day. We both feel that it will be difficult each and every time. We care for these creatures, they are smart, amazing parts of our daily lives; we form bonds with them and are grateful to experience each of their unique personalities. The thing that was different about this time was raising them up from piglets and having to pick and choose which gilt (unbred female) to breed or eat. I had picked out Dafney as a keeper from day one, but in the end she was not the right fit for breeding.

"You gotta love the animals you are going to kill. If you don't there is a disconnect." Stefan Kobowiak

So I bawled a little, and I teared up a little writing this, but that is good - I am, we are, passionate about healthy, humanely raised animals, we care. We are fortunate to work with George's City Meats for excellent service and an understanding of our practices, and we are fortunate to have great pork-loving customers who appreciate the way we raise our animals. In the end, we are grateful for the delicious, healthy meat that feeds our family - we know how it was raised, what it was fed and that it did not harm the animal, nor the ecosystem.

Suzy, with her belly beginning to round.
On a final note, Vera, Suzy and Elsa are successfully bred. No, we didn't give them pregnancy tests, basically you determine this by watching for their next heat cycle. They will cycle every 18-23 days, 21 being typical. In addition to the physiological signs they also get whiny, and Vera gets real attached to John. There were no signs, as the last predicted cycle. Now the ladies are beginning to look just a little more round in the belly and their bellies feel just a little bit firmer. We certainly are looking forward to gaggles of piglets joining the farm come May!

Vera. Love those ears.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thoughts on Eating in Season

Eating in season is more of a challenge here in the North, with such extreme temperatures, but it's not impossible. It may be a challenge to give certain items up, waiting until such time that they are gracing farmers' market tables and filling CSA boxes. Learning the many and varied skills of food preservation can help you build your pantry and fill your freezer, for better winter or year-round eating.

This past week we indulged in local and regional foods heartily. Fish from John's trip to Lake of the Woods. Vegetables, canned or frozen, from our farm, including broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, parsnips. Apples from home and our friends at Hoch Orchards. Summery pesto graced our pasta and grape jam our toast. Of course home grown pork and eggs provided protein, as well as local beef. For beverage, both hard and sweet cider pleased our palates, along with homemade apple cider vinegar.

"Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they're good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move "eating" in the consumer's mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation. It's hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body."

I love the thought of the "recreation" of local, in season foods. It brings to mind, for me, foraging wild mushrooms and asparagus, as well as the joy of opening a CSA box to see what the week's bounty brings, and customers at farmers' market waiting for the first tomatoes - the thrill is visible.

There are certain items in our household that we never buy out of season - strawberries and asparagus come to mind first. However, when winter peak citrus season rolls around we stock oranges and kiwi to keep our family in fruit, as our apples in the pantry and fridge continue to decline in quality and quantity.

I refuse to feel guilty about eating these items not raised local, as it's done with thought and intent - with a consciousness that is key in the move towards seasonal eating. Keeping our family healthy is of great importance, providing natural snacks at hand to promote healthy choices. Choices and habits only get better with each passing season, as conscious eating is a growth process with a learning curve. We are going against the grain, society does not teach seasonal eating, even if this knowledge was practiced with our ancestors. We must relearn old practices and create our own rules.

"It had felt arbitrary when we sat around the table with our shopping list, making our own rules. It felt almost silly to us, in fact, as it may now seem to you. Why impose restrictions on ourselves? Who Cares?

The fact is, though, millions of families have food pledges hanging over their kitchens - subtle rules about going to extra trouble, cutting the pasta by hand, rolling the sushi, making with care instead of buying on the cheap. Though they also may be busy with jobs and modern life, people the world over still take time to follow foodways that bring their families happiness and health. My family happens to live in a country where the min foodway has a yellow line painted down the middle. If we needed rules we'd have to make our own, going on faith that it might bring us something worthwhile.

On Saturday morning at the market as we ducked into the wind and started back towards our car, I clutched my bags with a heady sense of accomplishment. We'd found a lot more than we'd hoped for. We chatted a little more with our farmer friends who were closing up shop behind us, ready to head home too. Back to warm kitchens, keeping our fingers crossed in dogwood winter for the fruits of the coming year."  -from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver

Strive to be conscious about your food choices, eating as much locally, organically and in season as you can. Do this especially when it is easy, when items are fresh for the offering from your local farmers and farmers' markets, co-ops and CSA program. Strive to try new items and recipes each season and build up your preservation tools. Feel great about your choices and avoid making yourself feel guilty about a bunch of kale going bad, that you still don't bake your own bread, or you forgot to go to market this week. Eating with intention and a consciousness about where your food comes from and how it was grown will naturally lead you towards more seasonal eating.