Monday, March 31, 2014

CSA :: Monday SOLD OUT

CSA Sign Up Update!

Monday CSA Delivery :: SOLD OUT

Wednesday CSA Delivery :: 2 Full Shares (or 4 Half Shares) remaining

•          •          •

Farm Shares Update!

One Farm Share Remaining

•          •         •

All details available here on our website. 
Don't be shy, email or give us a phone call if you have any questions!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Chickens and Compost Bins

CSA & Farm Shares Update! Only one (1) Farm Share remaining. Only two (2) Full Shares, or four (4) Half CSA Shares remaining--Monday and Wednesday delivery both available yet.
•          •          •

What a beautiful weekend! The sun and warmth fueled a fabulous weekend on the farm.

What new signs of spring did you see this weekend? Geese have been flying for weeks now, but they are still a beautiful sight. We spotted a Great Blue Heron in a little space of open water, surrounded by ice. The pair of killdeer have returned to the yard, making sure everyone around knows they are back.

Saturday morning the ground was frozen enough and all the snow in the way had melted, so we were able to get the chicken coop moved to its permanent location. Hooray! Then the coop was given a thorough spring cleaning--all the litter was removed, coop cleaned out with orange peel-vinegar and roosts inspected for potential slivers, etc. Lastly, the fence for the permanent chicken run was flagged out for planning. The chickens got to explore a whole new area of the yard and we added an outside water source as well.

The litter from the coop went straight into the new 3-stall compost bin John built. The stalls are 4' wide x 3' deep with a removable front. Litter will be composted all season and added to the field as organic material when beds are finished produce food for the season.

The compost bin has been on our to-do list for a while, so it feels great to get it done. Don't get me wrong, we've always been composting, but now we will be doing so with greater intention. The first thing we did when we moved to the farm (very literally) was build a quick, 1-stall, pallet compost bin. This serves as our "sacrifice" compost bin, where we put everything we will not apply to the field; it serves a great purpose in reducing garbage, etc., but we needed a better system to utilize our vegetable scraps, organic plant matter from the field, as well as manure and bedding from the animals. Now we have it! Stupendous!

Speaking of chickens...the new flock of chicks has been ordered! We will be getting some heritage breed chicks as the very beginning of June.

Have a great week!

Brooke and John

Some Handy Dandy Links:
Natural Chicken Coop Cleaning
Homemade Orange-peel Cleaner (for the coop and home)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Photo Update 3.28.14

We're staying busy around the farm with the warming weather. Projects galore! This weekend is going to be a fun one. Here's some pics of what we've been up to...

Brooke continues to go to the New Ulm Community Market and Cooperative (facebook page link) Indoor Markets, as long as we have CSA and Farm Shares available. The next indoor market is on April 5th--it has been a great way to find local and sustainable meat!

Here's the ladies of the farm munching on some fodder--sprouted, homegrown barley. It kicks up the protein and vitamin content of the grain for them, as well as giving them something green to much on!

The chickens also get fermented food. Soaked for three days. While being more nutritious for them it also saves us money on chicken feed, because it goes farther. They love it!

Giving the fodder a stare down, chickens are so funny.
John took a trip down to Seed Savers Exchange to cut scionwood for grafting new heirloom apple trees for our orchard. As you can see in the picture the scionwood is like skinny little whips, that gets grafted onto rootstock with a special technique. The newly grafted trees will spend a season in the nursery, then get transplanted out to their permanent home. The first set of apple trees will be transplanted this year!

Harvesting heirloom scionwood.
We are excited about our heirloom varieties...such a wide variety, like Knobbed Russet (super ugly, extraordinarily delicious), Black Ben Davis, Bottle Greening, Hubbardston Nonesuch and many more. Some which we had the opportunity to taste at a Heritage Apple Tasting last year.

Some of our orchardist friends stopped by to visit. Bob Purvis (left), Purvis Nursery and Orchard (Idaho), has been a valuable mentor for John regarding all things apple. Dan Shield (right) was a fellow Farm Beginnings classmate in 2011-12 who is starting a stone fruit based orchard up by the cities. It's great to have farmer peers to share our adventures with!

Mucky and muddy, we won't get in the fields yet, but there are plenty of other projects to work on! The pink flags on the right are marking where some apple trees will go. I am excited to see how our shrubs on either side of the driveway grow in their second year--red osier dogwood and a willow.

Around the fields you can see the different sorts of cover we had on the soil over winter. Above, the barley residue on the left protects the soil much better than the mostly bare ground left after buckwheat. Below, the corn stubble protects the soil great and held snow for retaining soil moisture. When these residues get tilled in we will add that organic matter to the soil.

A look at the vegetable field. Mud city. Can't wait until it's time to plant!

Red clover pushing through and looking strong.

The red chair has finally melted out...where should I move it to?

The home orchard lone Honeycrisp got a major pruning and it's looking beautiful!

A favored sign of spring--lilac buds! Time to get those bee houses out, cleaned up and hung outside!

More green, in the kitchen garden...thyme, phlox, dianthus and I spotted my new walking onions poking out too!

The celery is adorable, I have to say. These are our big seedlings right now :)

Along with the celery we have planted broccoli, peppers and tomatoes. The peppers and tomatoes had a spa treatment prior to seeding--an overnight soak in a fish-seaweed blend. Three days in the tomatoes are all germinating nicely!! Incredible, I think they liked the soak.

Well it's Friday and night and John and I have a date with Menards! I think the first project on the list is a new compost bin. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Grant Awarded!

We are super excited to have been awarded our first grant. Alternative Roots Farm is one of eight recipients of the Lakewinds' Organic Field Fund for 2014. The grant is supporting our organic certification costs. I called my mother up right away, as Lakewinds Food Co-op is her co-op up in the cities--I had to tell her how cool her co-op is! 

It's so important to have organizations that support farmers, especially organic farmers, as we need more of them! “Our goal for this grant program was to strengthen our support of the local farming industry. Supporting the local food system is an integral part of who we are as a natural foods co-op,” -Dale Woodbeck, General Manager. 

 We are excited and so grateful. It's an exciting year, or third and final transitional year leading to organic certification. It's a big investment for a small farmer, but not one we would ever question!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Seeds Sown & Signs of Spring

Wednesday the first seeds were started for the season, the ball is just going to be rolling faster and faster from here! On top of that welcome mark of spring, yesterday I went to town without my jacket and even needed to crack the sunroof for a little bit! We are enjoying the melting and bits of green popping up here and there (I'm waiting for my trusty chives).

Soooo, let's take a look at our seed starting setup...

Seed starting station (at it's cleanest).
The modest seed starting station. This is where I mix my soil, plant seeds and up-pot transplants in springtime. I've got great light, John installed for me, all my supplies and my handy-dandy clipboard for record-keeping, as well as some tunes.

Seed starting station.
A big project this winter was finishing cleaning up the basement, from items that were there when we moved in, and reorganizing it in a way that worked better for us. The seed starting station really dominates this whole corner now. Those nifty file cabinets, that came with the house, provide great storage! That's a pile of potting soil!

Sifting potting soil and compost.
I use Soil Essentials Potting Soil, and peat moss, for my seed starting medium (add in a dash of lime to balance pH). I recommend this brand, as it's approved for organic use--you can pick it up at The Mustard Seed in Chaska, they also have compost and other products. Skip the organic Miracle Grow, who still supports chemical use, and support this sustainable company from Cold Spring, MN.

Anywho, so the soil and peat moss must be sifted, so no large chunks interfere with the seed germination; also, to ensure that the soil will "block" nicely in my blocking tools.

Here's a photo of our 2" blocker, showing the two different dibble that it can use. The white ones we'll use for starting large seeds in the 2" blocks (cucumbers, squash). The block ones are a 3/4" block, we'll use those to "pot-on" the smaller blocks.

For the soil blocking our seedlings the soil is premoistened, which makes for a welcome environment for seeds and forms good blocks. We start most of our seeds this way, as it creates a healthy root system, and can pack more soil in a smaller space, with the benefit of not using excess plastic pots that go in the garbage over time.

Here I'm ready to block with my damp soil, seed tray and dome, blockers, rinse water and organic buffalo compost. Celery doesn't like to be buried deep, so I'll sprinkle a light layer of compost over the 3/4" blocks.

Celery makes the seed starting debut!

3/4" soil blocks
It seems a little anti-climactic, but TADA! Celery! That's 40 tiny 3/4" blocks, which will be transplanted on to 2" blocks as the seedlings grown. This tray is covered with a dome, sitting on some very light heat, until germination, when the lights will be turned on for them.

Around the farm the chickens and pigs are welcoming the warming of spring. The pigs were basking in the sun yesterday and the chickens have been able to roam all day, each day now.

The snow melt uncovered the garlic bed. The solar heat and mulch did the trick.

Garlic bed.
I was happy to see our red clover cover crop peeking out from under the snow. We hope you are enjoying all the signs of spring! I'm sure you have heard all the geese flying around and I have even heard tell of a robin sighting!

Red clover.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fresh from the Farm

What wonderful weather we had yesterday! The anticipation of spring could be felt and seen all weekend. Folks were headed to the Farm Show to look at spring chicks, farmers on facebook are posting prolificly about their joy of being back in their greenhouses, and the yard melted down to a patch of grass!

ARF goods at the market.
We had a table at the indoor market on Saturday, at the new Co-op building, with CSA and Farm Shares, red onions, shallots and flint corn. It was great to be out of the house connecting with people about food. We really love that about market--chatting with our community members. It seems people are really thinking more about spring, as we welcomed a handful of new members over the weekend.

Welcome Linda & Patrick, Susannah/Cassandra, Anita & family, Donna & Dan, Alica & Daryl & kids as CSA Members! Welcome Joe & Elizabeth as Farm Share Members! We are so looking forward to sharing this season with you :)

It was so nice out the chickens were roaming all day. Well mostly one brave chicken, but the fresh air is good for all!

John was out at the orchard for a good part of the day Sunday doing this season's pruning. This year marks the last year of more heavy, restorative pruning (the third year). Even at this time of year John can get a decent idea of what trees may produce like this season. This year's growth and apple production actually starts in the fall, before going dormant for the winter.

Orchard with pruning piles
Seed starting begins this week! Celery is the first item and several more veggies and fruits will be started before the end of the month.

If you check out the latest issue of the River Valley Woman you'll find my first article for the mag in the Good Taste section. Let me know what you think, or what else you would like to read about local foods in the river valley area.

That's about it for now! I tend to do a lot more posts on our facebook page, but I don't want to forget about you non-facebookers, so I'll keep the blog more up-to-date. As spring ticks forward there are many more exciting things to report about!

Vera and Lilly. The snow's so deep we are looking down into the pen!
Always end with a cute pig picture :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

On Raising Our Own Meat

The arrival of pigs on the farm again completes the full cycle of our first experience raising our own meat. As I see it, the cycle didn't end with the trip to the butcher shop, or the first pork chop dinner, but with the return of live pigs, full knowing what lies at the end of their long and joyful road. Last February we had welcomed our first herd to the farm, they were intertwined with our daily lives until harvest at the end of October. There is no question, John and I both agree that it was one of the most amazing and meaningful experiences in our lives.

Our 2013 herd, 7-mo. old feeder piglets. Daisy, Lauren, Jaymey,
Yoda and Oliver were raised with much love, open air and freedom (and many, many apples).
Before the end of the season we knew we wanted pigs again this year--the farm will no longer feel complete without animals, pigs in particular. There were difficult times, especially at the end. Tears were shed, more than once. No regrets were had, ever. And the meat? Amazing. The first pork chop dinner John made with our homegrown, pastured meat was delicious--we high-fived each other three times during that meal.

Pigs are affectionate, social, lovable creatures.
While raising our own meat was the main intention for this venture there were other benefits as well. We wanted to grow our own meat, because we would know exactly how it was raised--humanely, in the fresh air, no hormones and the freedom to live as the animals that they are. It is just wrong to raise animals in confinement barns, better called concentration camps, it's unnatural, unhealthy for the animals and people who consume them, and bad for the environment.

Pigs on green grass, the way it's supposed to be.
The pigs provided another benefit by closing the loop on the farm. By this I refer to a cycle of nutrients and a reduction in waste. Extra, bad and damaged produce, thinnings and trimmings went to the hogs, whom received them happily. Their bedding, which contains some manure, is applied to the field at the end of the season--adding organic matter and nutrients back to the soil. Last year they were put out on the barley field, after harvest, to clean up grain and spread their manure.

Those lucky hogs also had tickets to an unlimited apple buffet. The other main reason we decided to try pigs (aside from meat production) was for pest management at the apple orchard. Cleaning up the fallen apples at the orchard disrupts the pest cycle--extremely important in organic production. The pigs spent two weeks at the orchard in 2013 assisting in pest management. A couple trailer loads of apples were also brought back to the farm for them. Now, not only are we removing the downed apples, but we are able to make good use of them too. And the pigs were happy to help.

The piggies helped me with a Schell's photo contest.
The pigs brought therapeutic benefit--providing stress relief, affection and connection. Even in the middle of the hardest work, or the beating heat of summer a visit with the pigs would lift spirits and invite laughter. Every day we could watch them on pasture, which was a clear picture of the difference we are making in our little corner of the world. The pigs loved belly rubs and it was not uncommon to go in their pasture only to have two or three of them flop down around you for their turn. As soon as we went out to work in the morning we would wait to hear those first oinks of the day, and they always brought a smile.
The pigs grown and ready for harvest.
Having the pigs on the farm became the best way to get Emily, our teenager, involved. Although she wanted nothing to do with vegetables and weeds, bringing animals to the farm created a connection with her. This is a sure way that she will be outside each and every day, nurturing the pigs, and now chickens as well. That alone is worth so much. She now regularly takes her favored chicken, Bonita, for "walks" and has introduced her to the new piggies.

Vera and Lilly settling into their new digs.
Enter Vera and Lilly. We are already madly in love with these ladies. They have wonderful dispositions, they are playful and affectionate. The girls are sisters, two years old and a mix of 75% Ossabaw Island and 25% North American Guinea Hog, both smaller, heritage breeds. They were bred to Professor Beefcake in February and should farrow (give birth) this June. What exciting times we have ahead of us!

Lilly and Vera saying hello to the camera.
As we tend to and grow our herd we strive to give them the absolute best possible lives they could have, and we take pride in doing so. It is challenging work tending animals--they are live, active beings that are much different that kale and tomato plants (and tomatoes just aren't as playful). The experience of raising our own meat has been, and continues to be highly rewarding and invigorating. Being able to care for these precious animals is a gift. Putting nutritious and healthy meat in the freezer is a blessing for our family. Educating our community by sharing our story is invaluable. 

For videos of the pigs, and other farm happenings, head over to our new YouTube channel.

Don't forget to follow us on facebook, there are sure to be regular piggie pictures.