Monday, January 26, 2015

Barn, Breeding & Chicks

Barnyard and Breeding

Looking back at the last farm update I see there is much to report on! Firstly, the pig barn is here and the pigs are loving it. The building is 12'x16' with one human door, two pig doors and four windows. They get great light, excellent protection from the wind and the best conditions to keep their straw nice and dry. It's amazing.

Waking up from a min-morning nap.
Here is a view of the inside. We have it divided in half right now, since we only have five pigs at the moment, to encourage them to cuddle up for warmth (their tendency anyways).



January rolling in meant time for the next breeding cycle (and dreams of adorable piglets). Leading up to this we had many, many discussions and schedules drawn up to plan what we were going to do, how and when to do it. So, long story short, we had a very frustrating and disappointing attempt at artificial insemination (never thought I'd be buying pig semen!) and had to develop a new plan, and push farrowing and harvest back a month.

Currently Vera, Elsa and Suzy are away on a little vacation, visiting with Buddy. Hopefully he does right by our girls, they get along, have a nice time and come back bred!

Chicks and Cluckers

We will be welcoming 25 chicks to the farm in the next week! It will be fun to have those little peepers in the brooder in the basement (that is sure to help with cabin fever). We are adding more layers to the flock (currently 13 hens), so they will start laying by the beginning of summer. More bodies in the coop will be beneficial for warmth next winter as well.

Our first chicks, from 2014.
The hens have been laying great, with a total of 63 eggs last week, or an average of 8 per day for the 13 hens. If you are interested in eggs simply email us at alternativerootsfarm@yahoo.com or text/call Brooke @ 507.412.7605.

Netting around the chicken run, wind-whipped.
The beautiful, mild January weather has been giving us opportunity to  do some projects. It's nice to get some work out of the way to lessen the workload come spring. The prairie wind is strong out here, the netting around the chicken coop was beginning to showing it. I spent Saturday pulling it down and putting it back up. Hopefully it will hold now.

Chicken run netting nice and straight!

Veggies & Winter Planning

The field plan is finalized, seed orders done and some seeds have already arrived in the mail - oh the first signs of spring! I have two calendars - one for inside seeding, one for outside seeding and transplanting - they have both been updated, so I am ready for seeding on March 3rd.

The sheets are designed to contain all the information I need at hand during planting. Number of seeds to plant, spacings, dates, germination temps and days, specific notes and more. A well-planned spreadsheet is a beautiful thing ;) This is necessary for successful and efficient planning, for me, as well as for record-keeping for organic certification.

My planning efforts now are focused on finalizing our 2015 budget in the next couple days, research into the cultural needs of specific crops, and doing some prep work for this season's newsletters, among other items.

Member sign up for 2015 CSA Shares and Farm Shares continues at this time. We do have a few Full and Half CSA Shares yet available, as well as a handful of Farm Shares. We're excited!!


This weekend we had a wonderful meeting with orchard owners Marv and Jill. Each year about this time we get together to hang out, talk about the events of the last year, plans for the coming year and each of our goals and visions for the future. We feel continually blessed to work with them - for this opportunity to manage more land organically and their passion for healthy food and land stewardship!

Phenology Report

If you get a chance to sit outside on a nice quiet night in January you may hear the call of the great horned owl. These amazing creatures are courting and starting their nesting season in the dead of winter, January and February. The familiar hooting can be heard here at the farm, because there is a nesting pair about a half-mile down the road.

Odds and Ends

There have been some requests from folks to hear more about what we do in our own home, as far as sustainable and natural living. I have been musing for a while on sort of a "Know Your Farmer" type theme of blog posts that would address this, so stay tuned and please speak up! Ideas that come to mind include our composting practices, green cleaners and what's in our medicine cabinet. If there is something specific that you are interested in post a comment, shoot us an email or ask us on facebook - we are happy to share our experiences in this way!

40 days until daylight savings!

New Ulm Community Market and Co-op is continuing it's member drive! If every member recruited just one more they would meet their goal. Consider bringing a friend there shopping the next Saturday they are open - Jan. 31st, 9 am - 1 pm.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eggs + Herbs

Learning to cook with herbs can take a little time, but it's a great way to add flavor and depth to recipes and expand your cooking skills. Adding herbs also means boosting the nutritional, and sometimes medicinal, qualities of a dish, while adding very calories.

Eggs are delish.
We have plenty of eggs these days, so it is nice to mix it up with different herbs. In the summer I just love fresh basil thrown in at the last second with some hot sauce to finish it off.

Basil plants.
Eggs tend to take on the unique qualities of the herbs used with them, as they have a mild flavor. Try experimenting with different herbs to see which are your favorite!

Here are a few herbs that work well in egg dishes:

Chervil
Chives
Cilantro
Dill
Fennel
Marjoram
Nasturtium petals
Parsley
Savory
Tarragon
Thyme

Grow some herbs in pots, right outside your kitchen door, buy them fresh at the farmers' market or get them delivered in your CSA box. Oftentimes if you purchase herbs for a recipe you may not use an entire bunch or package, but extras can be preserved. Make sure to preserve herbs when they are in season for use all winter long. ARF Herb Guide


2015 CSA & Farm Shares still available!


The Herb Gardener: The Best Herbs for Eggs

Soft Scrammbled Eggs, Infused with Herbs


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Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 CSA Sign Up!

Huzzah! CSA sign up is here! It is a really fun time of year for us, where we welcome back members from last year (or the last several years) and greet new faces. It is a time of looking forward to the great season ahead. We hope you consider joining our farm as a CSA or Farm Share members this season - we would love to be your farmers!


We love the CSA farming model, because it gives us a great connection to our customers, as well as to our community. It adds another large layer of meaning behind growing all this great food; behind the sweat, the long days in the field. We love this job, because it connects us to people and the land.

More about CSA and Farm Shares

This year will be our fourth season on the farm, offering CSA and Farm Shares, and our first entire season being certified organic! We will offer 22 CSA Shares this season and 12 Farm Shares. Apple Boosters and Herb Boosters are back again, in addition to an Add-on option from our  new partner Good Earth Mill & Grains.

More about 2015 Shares



Shortcuts...

2015 CSA & Farm Share Order Form

Good Earth Mill CSA Add-on Form


Monday, December 29, 2014

Barnyard Bonanza

Farm paperwork is something that I love doing (yes, I'm a nerd), but it may put you to sleep, so let's do an update from the barnyard!

On Christmas Eve John and I spent some time together giving the pigs a present (?) - new bedding and expanded pasture! Kind of odd staking up the electric fence in late December, but there was no snow and a patch of green forage, so...


...we fenced off a new area, opened the gate and gave them access. Then we removed all the old straw and spread it out over the dirt in their winter paddock. They never soil their bedding, but it's important to keep the straw dry, so new bedding every so often is a must.

You can see the pigs watching us from their pasture.
Tossing straw around got the pigs all excited - they were running around, bucking and spinning in circles. After airing out the shed for an hour or so we then replaced the bedding with a couple dry bales of fresh straw. Go to YouTube for a new straw video.

Vera, supervising the straw delivery.
We are looking forward to more pig adventures in the New Year, we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on the pig barn progress (it's near completion!) and breeding plans. We added some little porkers to the tree, to mark our first year farrowing and our love of these great creatures!


Ivan gets into the Christmas spirit too!


The pullets have really started laying these beautiful eggs regularly now! The new breeds lay a mix of browns, blues and greens.


We reached an inevitable point with our flock where culling had to happen. While we have had to cull birds before for individual reasons, this larger culling was a different experience for us - not enjoyable, but necessary. For each and every bird we keep we are grateful for their contributions and respectful of their lives. 

After their molt the old hens completely stopped laying, and while we could feed them and keep them as pets forever that is just not what we keep chickens for - we banded Emily's favorite first chickens and said goodbye to the rest. The number of hens dictates the carrying capacity for roosters and four was too many. We put three roosters in the freezer, grateful for the sustenance, and made Edgar (Allen Poe) keeper of the ladies. Maintaining balance in the flock makes for a better dynamic and healthier birds.

Speckled Sussex hens and the new feeder.
Hazel, after hunting she is a snoozy girl.


Other fascinating farm items
The website has been updated for the 2015 season - check out the updated info on 2015 CSA & Farm Shares Sign Up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pounds, Seeds and Eggs

Winter came on strong and I have to say I enjoy seeing the snow on the ground - a winter without white just doesn't seem right. The pigs don't mind the snow and the pullets are experiencing it for the first time - some walking right over it and some attempting to fly over it, or fly-running. The animals are endlessly entertaining.


We have finalized our annual report for the past season, and our crop review, which helps to inform business decisions for next season. 2015 CSA planning in near finalized and we'll be opening up shares to 2014 members shortly, then to the general public in January. The field plan and financial plan for 2015 is underway.

I am a super nerd and I love the planning process and paperwork - I am somewhat in my element with this. Thorough review and planning is important for a sustainable business model and very much so for a small farm.

Pounds

Part of our season review is updating all our harvest records, looking at yields and performances of different crops and varieties. Despite the conditions of spring, crop losses and challenges, we produced a bounty of produce this season!


I am proud to say that we harvested over 10,500 pounds this season. Our half acre of cropland produced over 7,100 pounds of veggies and fruits, and our orchard produced over 3,300 pounds of apples.

Seeds

One major item on the December agenda is picking out seeds for next season. Inventorying our stock we have on hand, pouring through beautiful and tantalizing seed catalogs and selecting varieties to trial, next to our proven standards.


We love Seed Savers Exchange, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Bakers CreekTurtle Tree Seeds, as well as The Maine Potato Lady for seed potatoes (because there is more than just Yukon Gold).

Eggs

Last weekend the pullets (young chickens, generally under a year) started laying their first eggs! At 28 weeks old, to the day, I pulled the first blue-green Americauna egg from the nesting boxes and continue to get eggs each day now.


Pullet eggs are a little smaller than regular eggs. With the breeds we now have all the eggs will be brown or blue. We love our beautiful ladies and were happy to bring them chicken coop 3.0.


The coop has a new hanging feeder (wasting less feed and keeping the feeder cleaner), a new roost, new windows and the walls are now fully insulated against the cold.

Miscellaneous

Last Sunday John and I went our separate ways for farm happenings. John went up to the Good Earth Food Co-op (St. Cloud), to attend their Customer Appreciation day and offering sampling of ARF apples, which Good Earth had kept in stock on their shelves this fall :) My trip brought me to the Land Stewardship Projects Minneapolis office to gather with the group of farmers all taking the "Journeyperson" course through LSP. It was a day of conversation on farming topics, networking, updates and farm financial planning.

ARF apples...we keep turning them into apple butter. A nice stock is set aside for 2015 CSA and Farm Share members!


I adore this photo, so I had to share it. We continue to be so very happy with the members of our herd. Suzy is one of our gilts (unbred female) that we are looking at breeding - her disposition is wonderful and her physical traits are great.


The pig barn continues to come together at the high school and we can't wait to make this the shelter for our pigs!


Let us know if you are interested in stuffing a stocking with one of our 2014 ARF t-shirts! We still have a few in stock, email us for sizes, guys and gals fits $20.00 apiece. Cheers!

Articles of Interest

The Health Risks of Conventional Potatoes

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 CSA Newsletters and Photos

An archive of our 2014 season, the third season here at Alternative Roots Farm.
Take a look at individual weekly posts, box photos and newsletters below.


The "Posts" contain pictures of each box & a link to the newsletter.

Preseason {1} May Newsletter
Preseason {2} June Newsletter




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baby it's Cold Outside

It has been a while since I posted about farm happenings. The throes of final CSA harvests, apple harvests, family activities, fall canning and projects took hold and the weeks went by. Here are some tidbits from the last month and an update on what has been going on.


Fall carrots were dug with the last CSA boxes and they were big, beautiful and tasty. We put away carrots and parsnips in our pantry, layered in slightly damp sand, to feed us fresh into winter. It is our second year giving this preserving technique a go - hopefully it will be more successful than last year. Hey, dedicating yourself to local, more healthy eating is a learning curve, right?! We learn new tips and strategies each and every year, and we are still figuring out the best storage situations in our basement.

We packed up the last of the CSA boxes mid-October with a delicious diversity of fall veggies. Finalizing the season is always a bittersweet time. We have enjoyed a different pace and other work in the past few weeks.
Week #18 CSA box.
We wrapped up CSA and then we continued to wrap up the apple season with our late fall varieties - Jonathan, Prairie Spy and Regent. The following two photos are the final harvest of the season - we make the most of our "farm trucks."



We harvested over 3,000 lbs of table apples (first quality) this season. You can more than double that weight with our baking apples (second quality)! The pigs enjoyed the spoils of our final harvest as well!


Field season ended with tillage, final harvests of brassicas (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts), parsnips and carrots; removal of fencing; and the planting of garlic. Garlic planting was very exciting this year as we planted our own homegrown seed.  This is important, because our garlic will continue to be selected year after year and acclimate to our site, improving our stock, as well as saving us money.


Above: preparing for planting by "popping" the garlic - separating individual cloves from 33 lbs of garlic. Below: garlic and shallot spacing marked with our homemade dibbler, garlic laid out for planting. A nice layer of straw tucked these alliums in for the winter. Strawberries are also mulched over winter.

The end of CSA and our major harvest work gave us time to catch up on a little canning, which we were unable to do during the season this year. Homemade spaghetti sauce with local organic ground beef, foraged morel mushrooms and ARF veggies; apple butter; salsas and apple pie filling topped the list. What did you put up this year?



Attention turned quickly to our handful of important fall projects: winter shelter and pasture for the pigs; greenhouse; insulating the chicken coop. Below you can see the footings being put in for the 12'x16' pig barn, which is being built at the high school by a class.


The fencing was completed as the snow moved in and we spent a couple very cold days finishing it up! I am so very excited about this addition to our farm - it is a very important part of our pasture system. This allows for much improved winter and spring conditions (spring is so sloppy wet), separate farrowing areas and a small paddock that may be closed off if conditions require.


Market has continued at the New Ulm Community Market with the last of our apples and it was a great place to feed the need to connect with our community members :) They are still working on building their membership and furthering progress towards opening their doors full-time; I hear they will be having a Christmas Open House event of some type.

Brooke on apple delivery!
What lies in front of us now? Finalizing the planning details for the greenhouse, looking back at the year and planning for next, fall cleaning (my version of spring cleaning) and inside projects. Tweaking and tinkering for next season. Musing on new ideas. Reading, yes, more reading!

Winter shall bring you more animal photos and some updates on what I do during the "off season." As I do my winter work I am super excited to look out the window from my desk and be able to see the occasional pig on pasture :)


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