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.