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.


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.


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).


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.


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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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Last Call for Apples!

We do have a small supply of our late season apples still available for purchase!

Jonathan • Sweet-tart
Prairie Spy • Sweet
Regent • Sweet

These will all keep in good storage conditions for 3-4 months! 
Ideally, keep refrigerated, or in a cool pantry.

3 lb bag • $8.50
4 lb bag • $10.00
1/2 bushel (~20 lbs) • $45.00
Bushel (~40 lbs) • $84.00    

We are eating fresh apples into January each winter - what an amazing treat!

Apples are available by ordering directly from us, and arranging a delivery, or at the New Ulm Community Market and Co-op Indoor Market, Saturday, November 15th, 9 am to 1 pm.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Apples :: Regent

Late Season • Sweet

Regent apples at market.
Early to Mid-October

Well-balanced sweet flavor, honeyed, with plenty of acidity. Crisp, with a pleasing texture and flavor. Uses: fresh eating and cooking; holds it's shape when cooked.

Introduced in 1964, by the University of Minnesota. 

Parentage: Red Duchess x Red Delicious.

Keeps 3-5 months in storage. 

This is a favorite fall apple! It is sure to please your palate.

A bag of Regent apples.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Apples :: Jonathan

Late Season • Sweet-Tart

Harvesting Jonathan.
Early October

A classic American variety with a good sweet/sharp balance. An wonderfully flavored apple that is dense and crisp. Uses: fresh eating and cooking; makes a smooth-textured pie or puree. Leaving the skins on during cooking may give a pink color. Jonathan has a distinctive starburst pattern on the stem end.

Jonathan was first discovered in 1826 as a chance seedling on the farm of Philip Rick in Woodstock, New York. The apple went through a handful of different names such as (New) Esopus Spitzenburg, New Spitzenburg and Ulster Seedling. It received the name “Jonathan” by Jesse Buel, president of the Albany Horticulture Society. He named the apple after Jonathan Hasbrouck, who first introduced Mr. Buel to the apple that had been growing on Philip Rick's farm. It quickly grew in popularity becoming one of the most important commercially produced varieties in the United States and served as parent to many popular new varieties.

It is one of the most commonly employed apples in modern breeding.

Parentage: Esopus Spitzenburg.

Offspring: Akane, Chieftain, Crimson Crisp, Dayton, Florina, Idared, Jonafree, Jonagold, Jonagrimes, Jonalicious, Jonamac, Kent, King David, Melrose, Novamac, Ozark Gold, Priam, Red Prince, Redfree, Saturn, William's Pride, WineCrisp.

Sports (natural genetic mutations): Jonared, Red Jonathan.

Keeps well for 3-5 months. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In the News :: Lakewinds Co-op Video

Lakewinds Co-op is awesome! I think my mother would agree, since it's her Co-op, but they are also awesome because of the multiple levels on which they support local and organic foods, as well as organic farms. At the beginning of the season we applied for, and received, a grant from Lakewinds' Organic Field Fund to support our Organic certification process. This being the first year the expense is much greater for us, to complete the full transition. Awesome! Right?!

A crew from the Co-op came out in September to shoot footage for a promotional video for the Co-op and they just finished it. It is pretty fun to see our farm featured on there, as well as all of the other great farms and projects that are also supported by this organization.

Take a few minutes to check out the great video and get a little glimpse into the regional food movement that is happening right now. If you want to skip head to see Alternative Roots Farm we come in at about minute eight.

We can grow all the awesome, organic veggies we want, but we need the collaboration between farmers, consumers and supportive organizations like Lakewinds, to really make a difference with this movement!

Lakewinds Co-op 2014 Organic Field Fund Recipients Video

Friday, October 17, 2014

CSA News #18

Week #18 and season three of ARF CSA is all wrapped up. The wet spring gave us an interesting start and the fall ended beautifully! Always fresh, always changing, always a good time. Thanks so much for doing CSA/following our CSA this season. Stick with us, there are many good things to come down the road this fall and in future seasons! Cheers!

Apples available at the New Ulm Community Market Saturday, October 18th, from 9 am - 1 pm; then every other Saturday until we run out! Contact us if you are looking for ARF Organic apples, or find them at HyVee (New Ulm) or the St. Peter Food Co-op.

CSA News Week #18

In the Box: 2 lbs mixed apples - Prairie Spy & Regent, mixed heirloom tomatoes, parsley, two Thelma Sanders acorn squash (tan), Swiss chard/kale bunch, mixed sweet peppers, leeks, carrots, parsnips, mixed yellow/red storage onions, Red Russian garlic, half pound Brussels sprouts, 1.5 lbs Katahdin potatoes.

Apple Boosters: Prairie Spy.

Apple Shares: Prairie Spy.

That's all folks! Thank you again and contact us at any time if you have questions, comments, etc.!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

CSA Week #17

Monday boxes are delivered and I sadly said our first goodbyes to Half Share customers. It is always so bittersweet at the end of each season.

The boxes are full of the splendor of fall crops this week - parsnips, winter squash, Brussels sprouts and Regent apples, as well as loads of peppers and tomatoes harvested before the frost.

CSA News Week #17

CSA Box Week 17 • Oct. 6th, 2014
In the box: Serrano/Jalapeno hot peppers, 1 lb parsnips, 1.5 lb Regent apples,  pint of ground cherries, red and yellow storage onions, mixed sweet peppers red/green, bunch carrots, butternut squash, Red Russian garlic, 2.5 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes. Half Shares also received: 1 lb beets, 1/2 lb Brussels sprouts and 2 lbs Katahdin potatoes (not pictured) in their final box.

Apple Boosters: 2 lb Northern Spy

Apple Shares Week #5: Regent and Honeygold

Week #5 Apple Shares

Thursday, October 2, 2014

CSA Week #16

Week #16 was a beautiful box with vibrant colors and a healthful diversity. The first parsnips were dug and delivered. Two more weeks to go!

CSA News Week #16

In the box: beets, Haralson apples, sage/oregano bunch, pint specialty tomatoes, 2 lbs German Butterball or Nicola potatoes, acorn squash, kale or Swiss chard bunch, mixed heirloom sweet peppers, yellow and red storage onions, Georgian Fire garlic, 3 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes, parsnips.

Apple Boosters: McIntosh

Apple Shares: Haralson

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CSA Week #15

It has been a beautiful week full of sunshine, which welcomes the official arrival of fall and Week #15 boxes.

CSA News Week #15

In the box: garlic, red and yellow storage onions, 1.5 lbs Wealthy heritage apples, parsley, 2 lbs German Butterball potatoes, Thelma Sanders heirloom acorn squash, Dinosaur kale, carrots, green peppers, 2.5 lbs heirloom tomatoes, celery, leeks.

Apple Boosters: Honeycrisp apples

Herb Boosters: Basil, sage, thyme, lemon thyme

Apple Shares: Honeycrisp & Red Baron

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photo Update 9.18.14

Whew! It has been busy, busy, busy. It has been a loooong time since I have done a photo update, our posts have been a bonanza of apple facts and CSA box content. Here are some photos from over the last couple of weeks, which have been filled with multiple markets, the most abundant apple harvest we have yet experienced, CSA harvest and deliveries (we just finished week 14) and a fall member potluck.

Packing shed and clouds.
Thelma Sanders acorn squash.
 Winter squash has been delivered in CSA boxes now; both acorn and butternut.

King of the North red bell pepper.
Red peppers are slowly ripening. Real veggies have variability, they don't all look exactly the same - I love that.

Marconi Red Italian frying pepper.
 The pigs have been enjoying the spoils of apple harvest. Receiving a multiple 5 gallon buckets of apples per day. We haven't been able to bring them out to the orchard yet, as we were not confident in bringing piglets off our farm, out of supervision (oh, teenagers). This has meant more work for us cleaning up apples, but we may be able to get the herd out there yet this season.

Vera having a regular apple snack.
Jostling position for the best snacks - Suzy, PBJ, Elsa and Dafney.
 Look at this beautiful bed of cover crops! Protecting the soil and feeding the soil microorganisms. Caring for the beds, after we are finished with them for the season. The tops of the buckwheat was burned by the frost, but it's still standing. It will be scythed and worked into the soil to adds wonderful organic matter (beneficial for building soil health and structure).

A view of part of the field, with row covers for protection from cool temps. We cover the tomatoes, peppers, ground cherries and basil.

Earlier in September, before apple harvest really took off, John took time for a short break up North. He crossed an item off of his bucket list - harvesting wild rice. Ricing is done by canoe, with traditional harvest tools. John and Eugene harvested one full day, 9 am - Noon, and brought in 20 lbs for processing. John was also able to stay over with our friends Mike and Marina, who have Farmucopia farm and have been amazing mentors and friends over many years now.

Apples are in abundance this year! John's dedicated and passionate orcharding over the past few years is really showing in the current health and productivity of the trees. You can find our freshest and newest varieties at the Saturday farmers' market at Runnings (9 am - Noon), at the New Ulm Community Market & Co-op every other Saturday (9 am - 1 pm), Tauer's SuperValu in Springfield, or by contacting us at any time!

McIntosh are currently in season.
German Red garlic at the farmers' market.
 Heirloom zinnias add color to the vegetable garden.

John harvesting McIntosh. We have a Apples page on our website that we are building to bring you all the information you need about each of our varieties, what is in season and what is coming up next for harvest. We hope this is helpful for you :)

Both of us up in the tree harvesting by ladder.

John just brought home the first picking of Wealthy and Cortland last night, so expect some more apple facts coming your way! We feel so fortunate to have so many great heirloom apples in this orchard, without planting them ourselves. Wealthy was discovered circa 1860 and Cortland circa 1915. Many more great heirloom apples to come this season and in future seasons, as our new grafts begin to produce.

See you at the farmers' market this Saturday!

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