Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CSA Week #2

Week #2 has begun with new items in the boxes and more sunshine outside! It feels glorious to have the ability to put in full work days without getting rained out. We are able to get back in to all parts of the field, without feeling like we are walking on quicksand.

Here's some pics from Monday's Week #2 delivery and a link to the CSA News Week #2.

The boxes were a little lighter, due to the spring season and the ongoing environmental conditions, but a nice diversity abounds! In the boxes: red and green romaine lettuce, spinach, Red Russian kale, bunching onions, beet thinnings, oregano, snap peas and radishes. The half share boxes also received 1/2 pint strawberries, strawberry-rhubarb jam, 1/2 lb corn meal and rhubarb.

We are looking forward to garlic scapes, snow peas and more coming soon!

My workstation - where I sort, weigh, package and make all my notes.

Kale gets bunched as I pick, in the field. Then heads to the hydro-cooling tank to remove field heat (so it will keep good and long). From there the harvest gets recorded and it goes into the cooler until boxes get packed.

Dinosaur kale bunch.
 So happy to have peas in season! They are one of my favorite things to pick (tasty, tasty).

Amish snap peas.
 Planning for CSA delivery starts with the newsletter (or planning in December) and a garden walk. Generally on Saturdays, we walk through the entire field and make our list for the week.

Other Recent Blog Posts:
Rain, Rain Go Away
CSA Week #1

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rain, Rain Go Away (updated)

So, I don't know if you've noticed, but it has been raining a little bit. In fact is raining right now. So far this month, on the farmstead, we have had 5.6" 6.6" of rain, . A good portion of that - 4" 5" to be precise - has fallen over the last five days, during this "hydro vortex."

"This is the wettest week we have seen since September of 2010 when we received over 8 inches in one week. June rainfall already totals 11.04 inches. This establishes a new June rainfall record, breaking the old record set in 2010 of 9.64 inches. There is still 12 days left in June. With rain in the forecast, we are closing in on setting the record for most precipitation received in any month, which was set in September of 2010 at 12.66 inches." 
-Paul Huttner, Hydro Vortex: Crop Damage Across Southern MNUpdraft blog

Rainfall, over the last week, has been 4-8 inches above normal. It's clear that we haven't had as much rain on our farm as in some areas, but it's still a lot. A lot. It was muddy Monday, for our first day of CSA harvest, but it was soupy yesterday for Wednesday's harvest.
A picture of the field Wednesday morning.
 Generally, in these wet soil conditions we try to stay out of the field, but when work has to happen we get it done. Working in wet soil conditions causes soil compaction, which can impact the soil structure beyond just one season.

So I went out to harvest and literally sunk about four inches in some spots. So after a little bit of this...

Kale harvest
 ...I opted for a lot more of this...

Harvesting using boards to reduce soil damage.
It took a bit longer, but it was worth it. Not only did I get a little bit of an extra workout, but I caused less soil damage and was able to pay more attention to my harvest, rather than where I was stepping and how much I was sinking.

Even before the last couple of days we could see that the continued wet conditions of this spring have had a impact on our crops. Some things have grown more slowly or been stunted, and of course the weed pressure is a factor.

"The soggy system that’s plagued Minnesota all week finally shows signs of slogging east on Friday, and taking the bulk of the heavy rain along with it...But the trends suggest our June Monsoon may finally be easing off and that we may finally be moving beyond consecutive days of heavy flooding rain."

There is hope of dry and sunny in sight, and that is what we are waiting for. We do need a break. We have ordered a new hoe to add to our weed killing arsenal, so we can go at them with all we've got, once it dries up. We need to minimize the hand weeding as much as possible, to make the most of our time, which becomes more and more valuable as the season moves on. In the very early season our time is divided primarily between planting and weeding, as we move forward more time is needed for deliveries, harvesting and other task work, such as the weekly pruning and trellising of tomatoes.

As I've written this we have probably get another 0.25" of rain. Strike that, as I wrote this we received another 1" of rain. After two years of droughty weather dare I say it? For our fellow farmers, our crops, the health of the soil and waterways, for the sake of soil erosion and for Vera, whose piglets will be welcomed into the world in the next 24-36 hours...rain, rain go away.

.     .     .     .     . Data from the Climatological Working Group

2014 BROWN Monthly Precipitation, Totals
 .87   1.09    1.60     4.65    4.29     6.6 (as of June 19, 2014- and its raining still!)
2014 January – June 19, 2014 = 19.1

2013 BROWN Monthly Precipitation, Totals
1.50  1.26    1.97    4.66   3.19    6.23  1.06   1.38   1.56   3.34     .43     .83
January – June = 18.81”

2012 BROWN Monthly Precipitation, Totals
 .96   2.54   2.10    2.10   9.81     .75   1.36    1.63   .70     .90      .85    1.62
January – June = 18.26

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

CSA Week #1

It was so fun to get set up to start CSA again! It feels soooo good to have started the delivery season. I just love going out and meeting our members at pick up and on delivery. It was a mucky harvest in the field, but at least the rain held off until I was packing the Jeep for delivery.

Setting up to pack boxes in the packing shed.
Here's a link to the complete Week 1 CSA Newsletter. You'll notice that two items made it into the boxes that were not planned - strawberries and bunching onions.

2014 CSA Box Week 1 • June 16, 2014
What's in the box? Red romaine and green romaine lettuce, rhubarb, bunching onions, spinach, rhuberry jam, red Russian kale, strawberries, chives, 1/2 lb heirloom corn meal, produce storage guide and Alternative Roots Farm seasonality chart. Herb Booster members also received their first week of booster delivery; the Herb Booster quartet this week included lemon thyme, sage, peppermint and oregano, as well as a handy dandy Herb Guide.

Week 1 will continue with deliveries on Wednesday!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

{Photo Update} Shots Around the Farm

The storms are rumbling outside as the rain comes down gently. Bright and early this morning we raked up our very first cutting of alfalfa hay, that had been drying in the field for the last few days. Now we have a giant pile of alfalfa in our garage - it's kind of funny. We'll feed it into a baler and have a nice start at putting away hay for our pigs winter feed. We should get one or two more cuttings this year. After that we hoed until the rain mucked up the hoes. Then hand-weeded the spinach, for next weeks deliveries. Now some inside work getting ready for CSA and Farm Share deliveries next week - paperwork and final touches in the pack shed. Until then...

Here are some pictures from around the field yesterday. Thursday we had a huge workday, as we were finally able to get the tractor into the field and had the time. John ran the rotary plow by the potatoes, so we were able to finish mounding them (below). Then, he ran the tiller, shallowly, through the entire garden to give us a good jump on the weeds. So thrilled!

Final mounding on the early potatoes; yellow onions
to the left and zucchini to the right.
Our first year growing flint corn last year was a success, so we decided to give it a go again this year. Below you can see how our flint corn field and barley crop is gaining height. Our CSA customers will be getting freshly milled corn meal in their first boxes - it's truly delicious! We continue to experiment, as we planted extra acorn squash in the flint corn - whatever makes it is pig food for winter.

Thursday we were also able to FINALLY get our fencing done! Ugh, that is always a time to rejoice. The last of the five foot bean fencing was installed and the wood trellis went up.

A shot at the garden fencing - peas, beans (and cucumbers).
I always love driving home and seeing the wood trellis in the distance. The final touch will be adding the trellis string, when the beans start reaching.

Wood trellis, the last of the fencing to go in this year. Woot!
 The first CSA boxes will get beautiful, yummy greens!

Red romaine lettuce, Rouge d'Hiver.
Kale and radish bed. That Red Russian kale is
doing mighty fine!
The first planting of carrots are getting big!
We have two beds of cabbage, early and late season. Ooooo, I can't wait for fresh cole slaw and grilled cabbage. The heads are looking nice, and we have been blessed to have very little pressure from cutworms this year.

The early cabbage bed - Early Jersey Wakefield
and Copenhagen Market.
We were waiting on the tillage, so Thursday we were able to get the LAST of the transplants into the field. This included a bed of muskmelon and trial watermelon (below) and a second bed of broccoli.

Hale's Best muskmelons, and a trial of Melitopolski watermelon.
 A shot at the middle of the garden - swiss chard, celery, red onions, sunflowers and on and on.

Everything is filling in with with height, color, shapes and smells!
Thursday not only were we finally able to get the tractor in, but the soil was good to run the seeder through as well. That meant planting more beets and radishes.

The third planting of beets went in Thursday.
Guess what I spotted yesterday?! Little bitty pea pods!!! Last week I was madly craving these delights. Fresh garden peas are my absolute faaaaavorite! So I munched on a couple pea shoots. We'll be picking snap peas in a matter of days. I expect those wax beans to flower anytime now too (on the right side of the picture below).

Amish Snap peas and Dragon's Tongue wax beans.
Perhaps this last picture is a little anti-climactic, but we installed some great new shelving in the pack shed! Pack sheds are set up to have a good "flow" of work, supplies, etc. and we have been working on improving ours - based on our experience and advice from our farmer mentor. We take our time installing permanent things until we know we will really need them. The rainy weekend means more time for work in this building, where we spend countless hours packing, sorting, weighing and delighting in the fruits of our labor that we get to deliver to people. And sorting apples! John spends many hours rocking out to good tunes and sorting each apple by hand.

Okay, I couldn't end on that picture...how about baby pigs instead?!

Feeding time - find your spot!
So much cuteness it's hard to handle!!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Our First Piglets Arrive!

Sunday morning Lilly went into labor and successfully farrowed her piglets. She seems much more comfortable now and very happy with her babies. She built this nice big nest with existing and new materials, to give them a soft, safe, warm place to come into the world.

Lilly nursing her new piglets.
Lilly and Vera have always been inseparable sisters - sleeping and eating together - but as soon as the events started unfolding Vera gave her space. Vera hung out all day in the shade and is now sleeping in her own farrowing hut (waiting her turn?) and continues to give Lilly and her babies their space.

The piglets have remained in their hut so far. They will begin to wander out in the next day or so, when they are ready. They are simply spending their time nursing and sleeping.

Here's a video of them nursing: Lilly and Her Piglets

Lilly appears to take great care with her piglets, when she is getting up and down, or flipping over. She even nudges straw around them to keep them warm. Their instincts are just amazing. Hooray!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Weeds, What Weeds?

The end of the red onion bed, pre-weeding, with long-handled stirrup hoe.
The spring moisture has been magnificent for our plantings, but it has also been good for the weeds. It seems like there are about a hundred-million out there right now. In our organic system we do not use herbicides for management, we also choose not to use plastic mulching. Our primary methods of management include tilling/hoeing, mulching (straw), hand-weeding, cover cropping.

Check out this fascinating info about weeds, from Johnny's Seeds:

"Here are some sobering statistics to ponder, as we enter weeding season on our farms and in our gardens: A Minnesota study found that a square foot of soil, 6" deep, contained between 100 to 3000 viable weed seeds. Many seeds remain viable for decades; jimsonweed has a 90% germination rate after 40 years in the soil, and field bindweed seeds are viable for more than 50 years. All those seeds are just sitting there, in what is known as the "weed seed bank," awaiting favorable conditions that allow them to germinate."

The conditions have been favorable.

We have been hard at work working to stay on top of the weeding. The wet soil, while a blessing for establishing crops, as been a challenge. Last week after 1.82" of rain on Monday, I would hoe only the North half of the garden. With 1.9" to follow on the weekend, some spots on the South end have remained to wet to hoe. When the soil saturated the hoe does not push through it.

My favorite and most used weeding tool - the stirrup hoe. We have a stirrup on our wheel hoe, which is 10", and on our long-handled hoe, which is 5".

The super awesome wheel hoe.
Long-handled stirrup hoe.
They both can work with a back and forth motion and do a ton of work efficiently.

Today I hoed until the rain began, then I threw on my rain suit and hoed some more until I was rained out and feel like I made some good progress! Now I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that the rain stays light and that those weeds don't re-root. One nice thing about the rain is the dandelions come our easier!

Here's a look at my weeding attack on our red onion bed. First, I hit the outside, and any inner spaces that are large enough, with the wheel hoe.

Red onion bed, pre-weeding.
 Then I run the long-handled stirrup hoe through the bed, wherever I can. Pulling back the irrigation lines, when necessary (the hoe will slice right through it).

Then hand-weed and look how pretty! The sunflowers are easier to see now :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Photo Update 6.3.14

Well, with four inches of rain in the last week the plants have been getting plenty of moisture. You can see things just growing and popping up. It seems as though some stuff has doubled in size - the garlic is standing tall, the broccoli is gaining great size and the peas just keep climbing. The weeds, of course, are popping too - time to attack them! The beets (below) got their first thorough hand-weeding.

Freeing beets from radishes that went to seed.
 After hand-weeding a row or bed it is just lovely to look back at the pretty rows - so gratifying! Mmm, next comes beet thinnings!

Colorful beet seedlings.
Sunday we went on a little farm date, for an event at Star Thrower Farm (Glencoe). We we able to tour their sheep farm eat some delicious local and foraged foods, and be rejuvenated by a day off. (Thanks Mom!) Slow Food Minnesota hosted the event - they are a pretty cool organization.

Sheep in pasture, with their guard llamas.
 On our insect farm tour (below). Discussing insect roles in agriculture and bees!

There were so many momma sheep and darling lambs!

 Back to the farm...my first irises bloomed and the second ones are ready to open up. I had no idea what color they were going to be, but these look black - sweet.

And into the field...as I said the peas are climbing! Strawberries in the foreground are moving from blooming to berry-making.

Strawberries in the foreground, snap peas climbing the fence.
The second planting of broccoli is ready to go it, and the first planting is looking great!

First broccoli planting.
 Kale and two plantings of radishes, amongst the weeds.

Basil, looking gorgeous. Ready to make pesto this summer?!

The first planting of lettuce gearing up for CSA deliveries!! The second planting is gaining size too. Now we have all four successions planted. Soon we will install a shade tunnel over the lettuce to protect it from summer heat and prolong the harvest season.

Tomatoes are tall enough to get their first trellising - we'll install posts and the first line of trellis string. After that, then they will get their first pruning. There are many flowers already!

Spinach - get your salad spinners ready CSA and Farm Share members!!

The new "Bee Hotel" went up this morning :) Making great use of these pretty scraps of fence posts.

Vera and Lilly, having breakfast. We think Lilly will have her piglets first, she is larger and last night she started some more nesting behavior. Stay tuned!

Have a great week! Enjoy the nice temps and sunshine :)