Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall 2012 update

As we brace for the strange weather coming our way, there's no question that summer is now over.  Our fall session is nearing an end as well.  We have this week and next, followed by the mega-box (actually 2 boxes +) the following week.

My quick review of 2012:
  • It was hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry.  The mild winter was nice in the beginning.  I didn't have to worry too much about covering the plants in the hoops and had many days of above-freezing temperatures so I could water (I still get water to the hoops with above-ground hoses).  So that was good.  Then we had the crazy spring heat wave for weeks in a row which brought on early-blooming of perennials, etc.  We grow mostly brassicas over the winter and when they are exposed to prolonged periods of about 55 degree temperatures, they think it's time to go to seed (bolt) which happened.  Luckily we still had enough food to get through it all.
  • Spring came relatively early which was OK - wish I had planted potatoes in March!  But I waited until mid-May.  I planted many rows of early crops March 15, the day of the tornado which ripped through Dexter.  Luckily we only suffered flooding - no real wind damage but others were not so lucky.  Many seeds were washed away so I re-planted 2 weeks later.  Those early plantings of chard, beets and carrots carried us through at least August.
  • With the early warm weather came an earlier hatch of pests.  Specifically, flea beetles.  They're always bad and just chow down on spring growth.  If they get into a brassica seed bed, they'll kill all baby plants.  They did kill many plantings but enough managed to survive.
  • June was dry.  July worse.  We do irrigate using drip irrigation.  This year I even had the well repaired at our rented property so that the potatoes and tomatoes could be irrigated.  Both June and July were stifling - record heat, drought.  I kept watching the drought map as we moved from "Abnormally Dry" to "Moderate Drought" to "Severe Drought".  It was a doozie.  I seeded many fall crops in flats this year, mostly in hopes of escaping the flea beetles and in part  and transplanted them in mid June.  Luckily they took and we're going to have the best brussels sprout harvest ever!  Broccoli, too, did very well.  I seeded spinach 3 times and none of it took (well a plant every 5' doesn't really count).  It germinated but just couldn't make it past the heat.  Fortunately, other crops did better.
  • Summer was generally shorter on greens and heavier on fruits.  Since we grow in the hoop houses, tomatoes and cucumbers were in good supply starting early.  The summer squash also did pretty well.  Beans didn't do as well as normal which was disappointing but overall, I was pleased that we were able to distribute so much despite the heat and lack of rain.  It was interesting to watch the plants turn more yellow over time - especially evident in the summer squash.  Lack of rain also means lack of nitrogen in the air.  As the rains returned slowly, the plants increased their vigor.
  • Now that we're back to fall, I have a bit more time to reflect.  We've gotten most of the fields cleaned up and cover-cropped and are working to finish planting the hoops.  This year I'm transplanting many plants from the fields to the hoops - small lettuces, chois, scallions, chard, etc.  The carrots were planted in mid-August and are on schedule for winter production.  The spinach seeded a few weeks ago is also looking good.  We finally pulled the last of the tomatoes, sweet and spicy peppers from the hoop.  Our front entry is over taken by crates of these fruits.  Those beds will be seeded this week.
Enough for now.  Let me know if you'd like to sign up for winter, spring or next summer.  Thanks!

Why a CSA, communication and other info. about our farm

Wow - it's been so long since I posted that I almost forgot how to add a post the "long way" (vs. hitting the post picture button on the i-phone).  Throughout the season, I generally send members e-mails with updates and interesting veggie info.

If you're checking in here to figure out whether or not to join our CSA, I encourage you to review the recommendations that some of our members have made via Local Harvest -  Input our zip code under the CSA tab (48103) and scroll down until you find our listing.  I haven't figured out exactly how that site preferences listings so you might have to search.

There are so many CSA options now available which is a great thing.  So how do you make a choice about where to join? 
  1. I encourage people to make sure that they're joining a CSA because they really want to.  Whether it's because you want super-fresh veggies or because you want to help ensure a stable food supply by supporting a local farm or because you have a desire to eat more veggies or because you want to connect more deeply with your food.  Any of these reasons alone are enough to make the leap but hopefully, over time, all of these reasons will keep you coming back to your farm.
  2. After you decide to join, call the farmer or go and visit.  It's a big commitment to pick up your veggies every week.  Some find that it will save you time because you don't have to go to the store and make choices about what to buy.  Others find the opposite because they're so busy and it's a hassle to add one more task to the list.  I find the most satisfied members are very flexible with their menus.  So, whatever you choose, the pick up needs to be enjoyable so make sure the farm and its distribution method fits with your lifestyle.
  3. Review the past distributions.  I maintain a blog which is attached to this one that's called "What's In the Box".  It's not all encompassing but it does include photos of most of the distributions so you can get an idea of what we distribute.  I try to give enough for 2 serious veggie eaters or a family with young children and I also try to distribute enough so that you get at least what you paid for.  Depending on the time of year, the amount will vary.  For example, the first two summer distributions are generally relatively small as the plants in the field haven't matured.  Right now, during the fall season, the distributions are huge and include everything from tomatoes and peppers to bok choy and winter squash!  Members are able to prepare food and freeze it for the winter months.   Generally every season has it's peaks and valleys.  When the winter distributions begin we'll still have some storage crops to offer along with fresh greens from the hoops.  As we turn to spring, we'll have more greens.  If we have another blazing hot spring, the plants in the hoops will bolt (go to seed) so the mix will change.  This is how it goes.  We offer a mix of fruiting veggies, root crops, and greens.  Fruiting veggies generally don't hit their peak until late summer to early fall.  In 2011, we supplied lettuce nearly every week (it was rainy and a bit cooler so greens did well).  This summer we didn't have much lettuce but had tons of eggplant, tomatoes and peppers (dry and hot which greens don't like).  In general, I focus more on heartier greens which you can use in salads but can also be used in cooking (yukina savoy, spinach (winter and spring), tatsoi, arugula, mizuna, mustard, etc.) than on lettuce.  We work to provide a variety of types of veggies.
  4. Make the plunge.  If you get into it and find that you're over-whelmed with veggies, don't feel badly.  One of the biggest reasons that I find that people quit is because they feel like they're wasting veggies.  It's OK if you don't use every last scrap.  Your participation keeps the farm going and if you have extras, you can always bring them back and feed them to the goats or add them to the compost pile.  I'd rather give you too much, than not enough.
All of this said, please join our farm.  We need to maintain full membership to keep on growing!  Any questions, please call me at 734-761-3554.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Garlic Scapes, peas and beans, oh my!

The veggies are on their way to turning over from primarily greens and alliums to some fruiting veggies.  Over the past 3 or 4 weeks we've distributed an increasing number of snap or shell peas.  First it was 2 per member.  Then people got 4.  Then 1/2 of the members got peas and the other half got carrots.  Last week everyone received a pint of peas.  This week, you might be happy to hear, that everyone will receive between 3/4 to 1 pound of peas!  In addition, we have green beans growing in the hoop and everyone should receive a decent amount of these as well.  We should also have quite a bit of both for the market.  Woo hoo!

I assume most people know how to eat peas and beans.  We find the shell peas best when eaten raw, right out of the pod.  The larger snap peas need to be strung which means you snap off the end and peel off the string prior to cooking - or you can eat these raw as well.  The beans are stringless so all you have to do is snap off the end that was connected to the plant and blanch or saute.  I like to blanch them lightly and then saute in soy sauce.

The big deal of this week is Garlic Scapes!  This is the bloom of the garlic plant that is pinched off so that the plant can focus on developing the bulb instead of going to seed.  It is a slightly curly stalk with a bulb on the end.  You eat the stalk and all.  We chop up into 1" pieces and saute and then add greens.  The taste is milder than typical garlic.  A really tasty way to eat this is to make a garlic scape pesto.  Scapes, olive oil and sea salt - that's it - ground up not too finely in a Cuisinart.  Spread it on pizza or a sandwich or stir it into pasta or eat it with eggs.  I make a bunch and store it in the fridge.  Scapes keep for months in the fridge.  You can pickle them.  You can eat them raw if you really like garlic.  They're commonly used in stir fries in Asian cooking.

If you haven't eaten scapes before, there's probably a reason.  They are only available for 1 to 2 weeks out of a year.  I've heard that they've been in the farmer's markets already so maybe some farmers have different micro climates which brought them on earlier than here but ours are ready now.  I will be distributing a generous amount of these this week to all members (one quart).  FYI - I've heard they go for 3/$1 at some markets.  If you don't know what to do with them, please take them anyway.  I had a member a couple of years ago that didn't know what they were so she left them and the next week she read an article in the New York Times which listed various recipes and she wanted some the next week and they were gone.


Overall update:  It's been very dry so we've been trying to keep everything watered.  Almost everything is planted and the succession planting continues (lettuce, beets, cilantro, stuff like that).  There are baby tomatoes on the vine in the hoops.  I seriously hurt my back last week (muscular, not disc which is good) but I'm on the mend and our amazing crew is helping to keep things going.  We still have a few spaces for summer so if you know anyone who's interested in joining, please have them contact me.  Thanks!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crazy Spring Weather

After the record-high averages set during the month of March, it seems that we're back to typical weather for Michigan.  The days are warm and the nights bring periodic frost/freeze.  This is wreaking havoc on many plants and putting pressure on others.  Things that are abnormal about this year:
  • The fruit blossoms are under extreme pressure.  If you look at the center of a blossom and see a black spot in place of a viable bud, that means trouble.  Most of our apple trees have this problem.  Our plum tree is entirely black along with the service berry.  A few of the apple trees still haven't blossomed - maybe they'll make it.
  • We have a small planting of strawberry plants and many of these have suffered frost damage as well so we'll have to see how this year's strawberry farmers in the area do.
  • We also have a few asparagus plants and even these plants were showing stress (curling, misshapen stalks) about a week ago when we had that snowfall.  I spoke with the MSU Extension office the other day and he said that he's receiving calls from all over the region with reports of damaged asparagus.  It appears that many farmers have not experienced this phenomenon before.
  • This past Sunday I was doing a routine garden walk (where I just check on things - how are the plants growing, how are the seeds germinating, are there any pests) and I noticed strange yellowing of the leaf tips in the garlic patch.  It looked like water damage.  And since we had just had a steady rain, I thought for sure that the garlic was water-logged.  So I started peeling back the mulch, exposing a good 4" of tender stalks on some of the plants. I peeled back about 125' of a 30" bed before Dave called me in for dinner.    Then I slept on the problem.  It just doesn't make sense that, after a period of such dry conditions, followed by less than 1" of rain, the garlic would rot even though it is so heavily mulched.  The plants that are higher up in the field (more exposed to the cold winds) show more damage.  So, I asked our extension agent whether he thought it was frost/freeze damage.  That's when I heard the asparagus story.  So, to protect it from further frost damage, the garlic is now re-mulched.  I'm glad I didn't get through the remaining 375' before I stopped!  I try to remind myself to sleep on things that just don't seem to lead to a logical conclusion instead of trying to fix the problem on the spot.  I've got to keep working on this.
  • The brassicas in the hoops are doing their best to go to seed.  Spring members have been munching on (and hopefully enjoying) bunches of kale, etc. which have buds and blooms.  Broccoli and cauliflower are brassica plants that have developed huge flower stalks that take time to go to bloom.  So, miniature buds from kale, arugula, choi, tat soi, yukina savoy, etc. are all similar to the broccoli shoot.  Yes, the flowers are all edible and I've been mixing them into salad mixes when we prepare them.
Other updates:
  • Many tomatoes are in our newest hoop!  We planted about 150' of tomatoes Tuesday.  More will go in today and tomorrow.  We might bring some plants to the market Saturday as I am pretty sure I'll have extras.
  • Also on the agenda, peppers will go into the hoops soon.
  • The peas in the hoop are starting to bloom.  I'm not sure what the yields will be but at least everyone will have a few peas to soon.
  • I planted green beans in the middle hoop and there's a bean bug that's munching on the seedlings.  I'll keep planting and try to hit the timing right (between emergence of the worm and emergence of the seedling).
  • The fava beans in the field have almost all germinated, as well as the peas.  That's a great thing.  I think we got them all in a good 3 weeks ahead of last year.
  • The onions are also popping up.  I planted twice as many as last year so hopeully we'll have more to sell this next winter.
  • I planted many rows of choi, arugula, tatsoi, yukina savoy, etc. last week and they're germinating.  We'll be transplanting cauliflower, broccoli, etc. today and tomorrow into the field, under cover.  The flea beetles are out already so I'm covering all brassicas as soon as it's planted.  They chowed through a full bed of yukina savoy, mizuna and tatsoi in the newest hoop (which I planted over 30 days ago). Maybe 20% of those plants made it.  Again, the little beetles will kill seedlings but, if the plants do make it, the result will be holy leaves.  The holes really aren't a problem unless maybe someone doesn't like the appearance.  The most effective spray against flea beetles is pyrethrin (which is an extract from chrysanthumums).  Pyrethrin will kill bees, lady bug larvae, etc. so I use this on rare occasions and haven't used anything to date this year.  I will say, the toad population in the hoops is amazing.  I've even seen peepers in there.  I noticed a praying mantid egg case on one of the hoop baseboards the other day.  Hopefully some predatory beetles will come in and help out with the flea beetles. 
  • The parsnips are in the ground as well.  They take 21 ish days to germinate so we have about 2 1/2 weeks to see if they'll pop up.
  • Surprisingly, despite the high temperatures in the hoops, most of the lettuce is holding its own.  I recently heard that the bitter flavor in lettuce will go away if you store it in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.  I've never tried this - generally we pull the plants when they start to get bitter.  But I will say that the leaf lettuce that we harvested yesterday tasted better than 2 or 3 weeks ago.  So, if you ever find lettuce a little bitter, try the refrigeration method - it might work.
We have many flats of plants in the small barn.  If you haven't had the opportunity to take a tour and would like one, please let me know.  Most of what's growing in flats right now are the field tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, etc. along with some brassica that I generally direct seen but that I've started inside this year because of the flea beetles.  We have days and days, maybe weeks, of transplanting ahead of us.  So, if you don't see us at pick up or if we're not at market for some reason, it's because we're trying to get the plants into the ground so that we'll have some tasty veggies to eat in June and July and beyond.

Enjoy spring!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Preparing for Spring

While I haven't posted in awhile, there's quite a bit happening around the farm.

Here's the hoophouse update:
  • The hoophouses are close to fully planted.  There are a few beds of veggies that have reached their max. lifespan and need to be torn our, new compost spread, and reseeded.  But things are moving along nicely. 
  •  The small hoop was planted over the past 6 weeks with carrots, broccoli raab, choi, white egg turnips, beets arugula, daikon and komatsuna summerfest.  There are some small black flying bugs in there that are putting some pressure on the turnips and broccoli raab but overall everything is looking good.
  • The middle hoop is coming into full production now.  There is chard in there that has been harvested all winter and I'm giving it a rest now to allow it to re-grow in time for the start of the spring season.  The first planting of choi has almost all been harvested and the second planting is moving into full production now.  There is also spinach and lettuce in there that should be quite large in 3 weeks.  There's a long bed of green onions - still small now and a bit sparse but they should be nice in 4 weeks or so.  A recent seeding of kale, collards and chard is emerging.  There is also a lot of yukina savoy which we've using as a base for salad mix or cooking and a nice bed of a brassica mix (mizuna, mustard, asian lettuce, baby kale and collards) which is an excellent salad mix - very, very popular at the market.
  • The newest hoop still contains a decent amount of carrots (this is what I've been bringing to market) along with 3 types of kale, 2 types of collards, spinach, mustard and lettuce.  There's a recent seeding of cherry belle radishes, lettuce and peas which are all beginning to sprout.  I'm afraid the collards have black rot - which is a fungus spread via seed - so I'm going to pull them and start over.  It's lucky that I planted baby kale and collards for the salad mix because I can transplant some of those babies to another bed and they should be in full production in 6 - 8 weeks. 
Here's the field update:
  • There's a decent stand of leeks that I will be saving for the CSA members.  We mulched them in Dec. and they're looking pretty good.  This will be a nice treat in late March.  There's also a nice amount of carrots outside.  So we should have carrots for the beginning 3 weeks or so.  I also held back some parsnips so you'll see this in the box for March.
  • The garlic is starting to sprout but I still haven't uncovered it.  It is heavily mulched.  Pretty soon we'll have to peel back the hay so it can get some air.  This crazy weather is so hard to predict and I don't want to uncover it too soon.
  • Some of the chard in the front garden is trying to make a come-back.  It didn't do very well last summer - it was in a location that it didn't seem to like - maybe too acidic as it was along the pine tree row.  So we'll see if the plants were strong enough in fall to really make it through the winter.  It would be nice because we could get a few picking off of it but really it's not a big deal either way because it will bolt (go to seed) quickly thereafter.
  • The cover crop of winter rye is looking pretty strong which will help with weed suppression and also with the addition of nutrients back to the soil when we work it back in.
  • The chick weed in the front garden is already doing its thing.  Will probably need to flame weed this soon as it goes to seed very quickly.  This is also a problem weed for us in the small hoop and is trying to take hold in the southeast corner of the middle hoop.  We'll keep working at getting this out.  The fortunate thing about chickweed is that it's edible and actually good for you.  So much so that I had one person come out last year and pay me to harvest it.  But the problem with it is that the plants form a large mat of small roots that are very successful at crowding out everything else.
  • We're in discussion with an excavator about digging a pond to help contain excess water this year.  We'll see.
Other info:
  • The winter market in Saline is still in session.  I've been able to take a nice amount of veggies and still have garlic and potatoes along with the carrots, choi, salad mixes, etc.  Stop in if you need a veggie Some tomatoes, peppers, celery and parsley have been started in flats.  The seedlings are up.  I'll be moving the flats into the small barn and will continue seeding.
  • One of our goats is nearing the kidding stage.  Another is expected to follow.
  • The goat kids that were born in December are doing well.  Noel thinks she's a person which is kind of a problem because every chance she gets, she makes a mad dash to the house and throws herself at the glass doors.  So she'll probably be sold soon.
  •  The spring CSA is sold out.  We still have room for the summer session though so let your friends know.
  • I'm in the process of interviewing candidates for both an assistant farmer position and field hands.  So far no one has applied for the first position but I have a lot of people who have contacted me for the second, as well as prospective interns.  This is great!
  • Big news - we'll be attending the Saline Farmer's Market this year.  The market is on Saturdays from 8 - 12.  I'm still trying to play around with pick up schedules so that it will all work out and will probably send out an e-mail to members that have signed up to see whether you would like to pick up here or at the market.
  • I'm still working on a distribution shed in my mind.  I go back and forth between trying to figure out how to use the existing barns and building a shed closer to the hoops.   One challenge is traffic flow.
  • Overall, things are coming along.  We've moved from a "brand new business" feeling to a more settled operation.  While I'm still wearing many hats, my network of support is growing.  This year I hope to automate the book keeping and figure out how to post the box contents/photos more easily - an i-phone might be in order. 
  • The seed order is close to complete (in my mind anyway) so it's not too late to put in a vote for a favorite variety or item.  The new veggie I'm planning to try this year is ... sweet potatoes.  And yes, fava beans will be grown, along with all of the other yummy items like okra, hot and sweet peppers (hopefully they won't cross again), etc.
FYI - I sent the following section out to members that have already signed up but thought others might also be interested in what might make our operation run more efficiently.  Every once in a while someone asks  this question.

We're continuing to make new investments here in the hopes of making each year better than the one before.  One example of this is that last November we had about 100 or more tons of limestone hauled in to raise the drive and help with the mud issues.  Maybe it won't rain this year as much as it did last but if it does, pickup should be a bit easier.  We still have a wish list that we're working on to improve the farm:

  • We'd like to hire an excavator to dig a pond which will help with excess rain. 
  • A cooler would really be helpful.  One can be built relatively inexpensively with insulated foam walls and a cool-bot.  This would  help keep the veggies looking fresher and prolong storage of fruits, greens and root crops.
  • A distribution shed would be a big plus - complete with a wash/pack station, etc.  One idea is to move the distribution to one of the barns instead of building a new structure.  But then I'd have to re-route the traffic - move fencing, bring in more gravel, etc.
  • A tractor with a loader on it would be a huge plus as well.  This would help with turning the compost pile and moving all of this black gold around.
To help fund one of these items, we might plan a fundraiser.  If anyone has any thoughts or ideas on this, please let me know.
We're looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Technical Difficulties

Good news and bad news.  First the bad: Somehow I blew out the links to the other 2 blogs that I maintain which are "What's in the Box" and the "Recipe" blog.  So, here are the links, in case you need them before we can fix my error.

Recipe Blog

What's In the Box

Good news is that I have posted some job descriptions for positions that we'd like to fill soon.  Looking for a few good men or women (or combo) to help plant, weed, harvest, clean and deliver all of the tons of veggies that we grow here.  If you know anyone that's interested, please have them contact me.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reviving Greens

Every week I give people advice about how to pep up greens.  You know the ones.  Maybe they sat in the car a bit too long before you were able to complete your daily tasks.  Or maybe they sat in the fridge, exposed to the cold air for too long.  Or maybe you picked them up from your CSA and they were already wilting.  Who knows.  You have two options.  Get rid of them in some way (compost, garbage, feed them to the animals) or eat them.  Unless I have way way way too much of something, we generally eat them.  And they're really good too.  So here's a pictoral of what happened last week.

At this time of year, the plants grow really slowly.  We generally eat whatever I don't sell at the market.  So the veggies have been picked, sat out at market for at least 5 hours, come home and might not get unloaded right away, and then we store them.  As I'm sure you can imagine, they're sometimes a bit wilted.  Furthermore, I might then store them for a week or more before use.  Here's an example of 2 bunches of chard and a bunch of collards that were about a week (or more) into storage:

The chard on the left was about 2 weeks old, the one on the right only about a week old.

This is a bunch of wilted collards.
They were pretty wilted but were otherwise fine.  As long as they're not slimy or something, they're fine.  So I chopped them up and tossed them in the spinner.  Here they are prior to soaking:
Then I soaked them in cold water for about 20 minutes or so.  Here's how they looked after that:
I then tossed them into a pan along with some onions and turnips.  These are white egg turnips which were only about golf-ball sized when I picked them.  They'll get a little bigger but not as big as the American Purple Top.  They're very sweet and tender enough that I don't peel them at all - just scrub them up a little, chop them up and toss them in the pan.

This was a nice, tasty dish.

So the next time you consider tossing out your wilted greens, think again.  This works for lettuce, spinach, choi, collards, kale, chard, etc.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sign up now for Spring & Summer

Enrollment is now open for both spring and summer CSA sessions.  We have a few spots still open for spring so, if you're interested in participating, please let me know soon.  That session will begin mid-March and end the last week in May.  Summer will begin the first week of June and run through the end of September.  For more info., please check out the page titled CSA Info.

We previously had a website that I was maintaining through a program called NVu.  It has become too much to maintain both the blog and web site so I decided to post all info. here instead.  If you are missing something that used to be available there, please let me know and I'll add it to blogger.

We continue to sell through the Saline Farmer's Market.  Today I took collards, kale, chard, eggs, green onions, radishes, turnips, carrots, salad mix, baby choi, mustard, arugula, rosemary, potatoes, kamatsuna summerfest & garlic.  I nearly sold out.  If you haven't stopped by yet, we'd love to see you there.  We're open from 9 - 12 every Sat. through April.

Seeding of additional spring crops and early summer crops will begin next week with a big push toward the end of the month to mid-Feb.  Not long after that, planting of tomatoes, peppers & eggplant will begin.  I guess I'd better get the seed order together!

Take care and let me know (if you haven't already) if you're planning to participate in either spring or summer.