Friday, October 26, 2012

Winter Preparations

We are now preparing for Winter.    Last night was the beginning of a week projected to have overnight lows in the 20's to low 30's.    We put down tarps on frames over the primary greens and tuber growing beds.    We covered new beds temporarily.     We have planted winter-hardy greens and more beets, carrots, kale and some horticultural crops.    They are covered and look well this morning.

With our low tunnels over the working beds, our salad greens should be able to give continuously,into January.     Others will overwinter and be on the market before most produce growers can plant their beds in ;the Spring.   Production typically slows down this time of year, but it is regulated by the plant's cold tolerance.

The new salad greens mix has more lettuce than during the peak drought months of June, July and August.    It also has smaller leaves of the following plants:
  • Swiss Chard
  • Collards (baby leaf)
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi greens (baby leaf)
  • Broccoli (baby leaf)
  • Mustards
  • Mizunas
  • Arugulas
  • Mints
  • Parsley and Cilantro
  • Beet greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Radish greens
  • Carrot top (baby leaf)
  • Pak Choy, Bok Choy, Dae Cheong Chae
The new lettuces and the sprouting spinaches will provide contrasting colors to the deep, dark greens, maroons, browns, reds and oranges of the mix.

Beets and carrots are normally sweeter and darker in the early winter.    Turnips are milder.    

Our second plantings of Purple Majesty, Mountain Rose, All Blue, my All Purple strain, Yukon Gold and All Red potatoes will survive the frost, but the plant aboveground will not.     These potatoes will be dug shortly.     The sweet potato harvest has been surprisingly good, given the drought.

For our CSA clients, we have put up record quantities of:
  • Raspberry, strawberry and rhubarb mix jams and syrups
  • Apple chips (dehydrated apple slices)
  • Pear chips
  • Salsa
  • Green Tomato relish
  • Stewed Tomatoes
  • Catsup
  • Pasta sauce
  • Apple jelly
  • Apple butter
  • Apple sauce
  • Frozen rhubarb, berries, okra
  • Canned Pear halves.
They will begin receiving baked goods, including Doris' pies, specialty breads, multi-grain and cracked wheat breads, her hot and cinnamon sugar coated peanuts.

Our friends at Tomato-Tomato continue to receive the salad greens on alternate days.   They are beginning to buy Doris' jam assortments in decorative gift baskets. We are looking to expand the offerings at Bambi's Green Acres, a well known Omaha nutrition store and hope to announce two more restaurants using our salad greens mix in the coming days.

Next on the agenda is cold storage of the harvest.    Sweet potatoes are filling up the fruit room, as are potatoes.    Tomatoes are ripening slowly in the garage and are checked almost daily.   

We are placing our Spring seeds purchases and will be polling the restaurant clients to see what we should add.    In the meantime, allow me to recommend Dante' Pizzeria Napolitana in the Shopps of Legacy on West Center in Omaha.    In addition to our salad greens, they are the masters of fresh, handmade pastas, the freshest Mozarella cheese, made in the restaurant, and an assortment of Italian specialty meats and cheeses.    Small wonder Dante' Pizzeria is in the top 10 restaurants in Omaha month after month.    I see their craftsmanship every time I deliver.    Trust me, they don't cut corners.    This place is the real deal.

Good eating to you all!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

High Summer is Here!

The calendar does not show Summer starting until June 21.    Everything is at least a month early this year, due to the persistent La Nina in the Pacific.    This one is the source of the very mild winter and drought conditions prevailing over Southwestern Iowa since early 2009.     At the farm, we have had 2 3/4 " of precipitation since the end of March.     That puts us clearly in drought.     The US Weather Bureau has called this one the second strongest since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.     They pulled that article to be more upbeat before the election.    There is, after all, a slight difference between outright lying and being upbeat.     The net result is parched earth, abnormal watering efforts and change in crop plans.

At the farm, we have instituted water rationing, for the third summer season in 3 consecutive years.     We have to apply 1/2"/ day to the greens, 1/4"/day to the row crops and deny potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes water, except once a week.     The salad greens beds planted in March and April are trying to bolt.    That means lots of seed for next year and a lot of seed saving work, planting more beds and not tilling until ready to plant.    We have even planted the Edamame soy beans using manual "no-till" into hairy vetch.     Alfalfa is blossoming and will seed out shortly.    This and the clover are recharging nitrogen to the soil on our farm.

Tomatoes are in the cages and growing fast, with lots of grass mulch.     There will be Celebrity, First Prize, Erly Girl, Black Krim, Green Zebra, Roma and Grape tomatoes.    Hot peppers go in on Memorial Day, to be followed by squash and more green beans.    

The "3 sisters"; corn, bean and squash are planted and growing well.     We are using 3 bush bean types, climbing Blue Lake and 2 other green climbers.    The squash will be yellow straight neck, zuchini and Giant

450 sweet potato starts are going in the ground on shaped beds today and tomorrow.    There will be the sweetest white: Bunch Porto Rico, the all time favorite down South: Beauregard, the big one: Georgia Jet, a tasty larger one: Centennial and the Midwest favorite: Vardamann.

So, get ready for some real good eating.     It's coming fast, despite the drought.

Monday, May 7, 2012

CSA 2012 Begins

Tuesday, May 8 completes the first week of the 2012 Main Season CSA.   Shareholders boxes contain the current salad greens mix, the spinach mix, braising onions and braising garlics, potted strawberry starts, raspberry canes (for those that can use garden space at home), Giant Crimson Globe and French Breakfast radishes, a flower for the ladies and recipes to make Spanakopita, two salad dressings and suggestions for the salad presentations.

Next week, we will build on this foundation and include two more types of radish, rhubarb, Asian and European braising greens, an all lettuce salad mix and the leeks that overwintered, uncovered so well.   We will learn how to make a leek soup, how to stir fry or braise the braising greens and receive a potted curly willow start.    It will leaf out to be a rather confused looking plant, but waiting until winter, when the plant sheds its leaves, this will be a decorator's backdrop for floral arrangements at the dinner table.    We will also have instructions on how to do rhubarb/berry jams, rhubarb pies, rhubarb syrup for ice cream or pancakes and rhubarb sauce.

On the farm, there have been setbacks.    Two frosts in mid-April killed the all too early growing buckwheat and all the bean starts I had put out.    It was a gamble on the starts and some of the greens.   Most of the potatoes were hit, but came back within 10 days, as if nothing ever happened.   The greens were unaffected.

We had been down over 8" on the water year normal precipitation, due to the strongest La Nina in the Pacific since the great dust bowl of the 1930's.    Recent data suggest that the La Nina is breaking up and will be replaced by a weak El Nino, which may mean above normal precipitation.    Good news for produce farmers.

The germination and starting trays in the sunroom are full with third round seedling starts.    We have planted the following crops to date:
radishes (plantings of each type are bi-monthly through mid-July) 6 types
beets, 5 types
carrots2 types
soybeans for Edamame
5 types of fresh beans and 5 types of dry beans
sweet corn, Indian corn, ornamental and red kernel popping corn, blue dent corn for blue chips
All Red, Yukon Gold, All Blue, All Purple, Purple Majesty, White Finn and Mountain Rose potatoes
3 Arrugula, 2 Mizuna, Tat Soi, Pak Choy, 11 lettuce types, 3 Asian mustard types, 3 Swiss Chard types, 3 kale types, 5 basils, cilantro and parsley.
Celebrity, First Prize, Green Zebra and Cherry Tomatos.

The effort now is to move from 45 to 80 pounds weekly of salad greens.    You may now eat or buy them in Omaha at:
  • Dante's Pizzeria Napolitana,
  • Cafe Dolce,
  • Tomato-Tomato.
Iowa locations include:
  • Green Acres Market in Council Bluffs
  • the Willow Creek Farmstand at 360th Street and Highway 6 near Oakland,
  • Harlan Farmer's Market and
  • Exira Farmer's Market.
Brassicas are next on the list of things to plant.   

May 17 is our annual Organic Certification Audit.   In 2010 and 2011, we were fortunate to have no requests to change procedures, no mandatory corrective actions and a generally favorable review.   

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring planting is now 1/3 done

In late February, we began starting vegetables indoors.    Red tomatoes are ready now for the second transplant, but not to go outdoors yet.   Black Krim, Purple Cherokee, Roma and Green Zebra will be started tomorrow.
Painted Pony beans and Tendergreen Garden beans are 8" tall and ready to go out after the rains end March 23.   2 basils, broccoli and several herbs are beginning to grow nicely.     Hazelnuts take a long time to germinate and still have not sprouted.    

Outside, 600 row feet of All Blue potatoes, 120 feet of All Red, 140 feet of Purple Majesty are planted, with another140 to go.    Yukon Gold and Mountain Rose are still sprouting and will be planted after the rains.    We only grow colored meat potatoes because the purples and, to a lesser degree, the reds and blues contain pigments that are anti-oxidants.    Anthocyanidin is resident in Purple Majesty and this is a very strong anti-oxidant.    Yukon Gold, a perennial market favorite, has some important micronutrients, and is grown because they are Doris's favorite by taste.     I like bright purple french fries, purple steamed potatoes in skin and her All Blue pan crisped chips.     What would the 4th of July be without red, white and blue potato chips?    The Mountain Rose is beautiful for its red starburst pattern on a white background.  

We have onions, garlic and leeks overwintered and growing well.     Same is true for spinach.      6 lettuce types, endive, three oriental mustards, Dae Kong Chai, carrots, radishes, beets and turnips are also planted.    Rhubarb is forming the first stems and leaves, asparagus emerged yesterday and the cover crops of hairy vetch, rye, clover and alfalfa have begun rapid growth, which will enhance soil organic matter and nitrogen levels.    More lettuces and many more oriental greens will be planted next week.     We repeat the plantings at weekly intervals to assure a continuous and varied supply through December.    

I will open new terraced beds for sweet corn, indian corn, popcorn, beans, squash and some flowers to attract pollenators as soon as soil moisture allows.    The corn, beans and squash will be started indoors and transplanted.    This year, the sweet corn patch that produced so well in 2011, will be planted in the classic Edamame soy beans, harvested green in pod and frozen, except for a small amount to be sold fresh.     This snack is ubiquitous in Japan, some of the coastal provinces of China and many other asian cultures.      Amaranth and some of the oriental spices will combine with mint, parsley, cilantro and spices to bring the Vietnamese delight Pho to Iowa.    This dish was necessitated in French Indochina, as the French imported live beef, butchered it and began to accumulate large stocks of bones.    The Vietnamese cooked the bones down to produce broth and added greens, sprouts and spices to make their popular soup, as a way to use the bones.

For the main season CSA, I will also grow lavender, previously saved by our deceased friend Jeryl Jones and his companion Peggy Wiles.   Jeryll also saved the tomato seeds for Celebrity and other reds.    The lavender will be used in fresh bouquets, soap making and for dried floral stems.

Next week's plantings will include garlic from saved seed, romaines, 5 basils, kohlrabi, more radish, more carrots (you never have enough carrots), more beets, the fractal broccoli cousin-romanesco and radichio will be direct seeded.

Grapes were started from cuttings last winter, cold stored and are now rooting.     Three more runs of seedless Canadice, Himrod and Glenora are planned.    We noticed the apricot tree in full bloom and the apples coming on.    Hopefully, the meager harvest of 2011 will turn to abundance in 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spring came and went away briefly

January was much like late April.   February has returned to normal weather patterns.     We set out spinach, mache', beets and carrots under the caterpillar tunnels (low rise hoop structures with clear plastic covers) and have our fingers crossed.    We have started arrugula, tomatoes, grape vines, hazelnut seedlings, mild and hot peppers, parsnips and much more indoors, one month earlier than 2011.     We are quitre confident that we will be supplying the Tomato-Tomato store, restaurants and institutional clients with salad greens and vegetables, asparagus and kohlrabi before the end of March.     By mid-April, we should have excess and begin delivering to new restaurant clients.

We have provided existing and prospective chef-owned restaurants with our growing intentions and asked that they provide us with names of items they might wish to buy.    There will be plenty of room in the gardens to accomodate these desires.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The big Chill tonight

We expect the temperature to drop to 19 tonight.    The caterpillar tunnels are up, closed and functioning well.    We will say goodbye to the salad greens not in the tunnels.     They served us well and they will be missed.     Some mustards, some loose leaf lettuces, some parsley, some cilantro and a row of pretty heading lettuces were harvested the last time Tuesday.   

We have beets, onion starts, carrots, lettuces, mustards, spinach and mache under the tunnels.     Mache was planted Tuesday, after pulling some beets and carrots.

There will be ample produce available at Farmer's Market in Exira Friday and Harlan Saturday.     Squash, pumpkin for that Thanksgiving pie, turnips, salad greens, spinach, kohlrabi, tomatos, carrots and beets will be sold, along with the baked goods Doris provides (banana bread, pumpkin bread, roll-up breads, wheat and white bread and pies).

We wish you a happy and prosperous Thanksgiving.    Doris and Carl look forward to dinner with the grandchildren in Audubon.    Our prayer is that all have a loving and caring family to gather with.    This holiday is the one that most emphasizes family, inventorying our multitude of blessings and reaching out to those less fortunate.     Share your meal with the less fortunate and forgotten in your neighborhood and you will be abundaqntly blessed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October starts the Winter Gardening Season

October 18 brought the first big frost.    We were ready.   The caterpillar tunnels went up in time, protecting sensitive greens.   The tomato plants are hanging upside down in the garage, to finish ripening the fruit already formed.     Basils were pulled to dry.     Seeds from lettuces, parsley, radishes, buckwheat, rye, wheat, indian corn, etc. were gathered.    Potato seed is now going to the cold room for storage.    That includes the new all purple strain.     We will begin digging the sweet potatos and yams as soon as the frost kills the green plant.      Fall tillage and planting of cover crops is now under way.

The squash, mini pumpkins and pumpkins are now all gathered and have been committed to storage, awaiting sale at farmer's markets, CSA and Tomato-Tomato.    

It now appears that our efforts in Exira are paying off.    This town lost its grocery store and really supported the farmer's market.     We made a commitment to travel almost 1 hour each way every Friday, to serve them with fresh vegetables, fruits and the finest baked goods and preserves.      The operator of a grocery in a near-by small town may agree to open the grocery in a vacant building.      We hope the shareholders of the grocery can now move to obtain grants and find the building.     Nishnabotna Naturals will be allowed to extend the Friday evening farmer's market beyond October.      If all goes well, the organization of the grocery store will be created soon and we would hope to sell our fresh produce in the new grocery on a consignment basis, to minimize risk to the operator.     Perhaps the fresh baked goods can be supplied to this new grocer, as well.     

The granchildren live in neighboring Audubon and they are the real reason we are interested in the Exira market.     At just 9 more miles away, we can drop off our fresh organic produce and goodies to the family, spend time with the kids and indulge our grandparently urges.