Wintering Over Root Vegetables

Looks like we will be having an early winter this year but we still have a lot of carrots and beets! It’s time to put row cover over the hoops for these root vegetables and see how long they will last.

We are trying two different approaches. The carrots on the right will just be covered with the fabric. The beets on the left are covered with hay AND the fabric to double insulate. Beets are more susceptible to the cold than carrots so we thought they may need extra help to keep from freezing.

We had great success last year when we winter covered for the first time. We only covered the carrots and they lasted until almost Thanksgiving! In addition to surviving the winter weather they also lasted into January after harvested and refrigerated.

Let’s see how long we can make the carrots and beets last this winter!

Success with Spaghetti Squash

Every now and then a customer would request spaghetti squash but since it wasn’t a common vegetable we never thought to grow it. After an increasing number of requests we decided to set aside a test area to try and grow it along side the butternut and acorn squash.

We couldn’t be happier with the results. With only a few plants we grew almost 30 squash and some of them were incredibly large! Every customer that requested this squash bought one to try and the feedback was amazing. “The best spaghetti squash I’ve ever had in my life!” was becoming a common comment on deliver day. With my limited experience eating this squash I actually had to agree with them! Even the man of the house who is not a fan of any kind of squash fell in love with it.

If you are not familiar with spaghetti squash it looks like a yellow football and about the size of one too. Like other fall/winter squash you cut it down the center, scoop out the seeds and baked it in the oven until it is tender. The difference with this squash is you take a fork, pull it down through the tender meat and it comes out in strips like a thick spaghetti noodle.

I recommend everyone grow this because it is so easy to grow with a big return.

Growing Luffa

Do you know what a Luffa is? Sometimes it’s spelled Loofah. It’s a natural sponge that historically was used to clean dishes and today it is used on the body in the shower to smooth your skin.

Luffa are actually a squash/gourd. They grow like a zucchini but are heavy on fiber that when dried result in the sponges you see in the store. Why are we growing luffa? It’s something to add to our mix that has a long shelf life so is readily available. It’s also organic and bio-degradable so chemical free and good for the environment. We are hoping to find a market for it.

How easy is it to grow? It’s fairly easy, however we made the mistake of planting it next to broccoli which grew very tall this year. There was too much shade. We only ended up with 3 fully grown luffa at the end of the season and only 1 that had enough fiber to dry into a sponge. We found out after the fact that luffa required over 250 sunny days to grow well and we live in a short season environment.

We will try again next year and start growing inside to get a jump start to meet the 250 days.

Fresh Red Onions

A new item we grew this year was red onions. We tried to grow onions 3 times with little success for selling quality. On the post earlier this year we shared the new way we were going to try and grow the onions for a bigger, juicier bulb. We dug trenches to lay the onion sets in and as the onion grew we added soil to keep the bulb covered at all times. The bulb grew bigger with the added soil. In the end this strategy worked! It was exciting to finally pull up onion bulbs the size you would see in the grocery store.

Unfortunately, we learned another new lesson! We did a lot of research on how to store onions and went through the process of pulling them up, laying them in the sun to dry the outer skin, and then hung them up. What we found out too late is that the variety of onion sets I chose were not STORING onions. They are considered FRESH onions. What that means is they do not store well and are sensitive to heat and bruising. End result is I overheated 30% of the onions, bruised another 20% and was left with 50% of the onions that would only last a couple weeks out of the ground.

This is what should have happened. After the onions reached the correct size we should have been pulling them to order like we do with other root vegetables. That is how we will do it next year. And we will because the onions we had over the month they stayed fresh tasted fantastic and we did sell out!

Garlic Harvest 2019

It’s August and you know what that means! Garlic is ready to harvest! With 4 rows of garlic this year it took 3 of us a couple days to pull it all.

The size of the garlic is larger than last year and MUCH larger than the year before. It seems like 3rd time is a charm for us. The third year we grow something we seem to have all the issues resolved. A tip I received from a garlic farmer for this year was to put a pinch of bone meal in each hole that you drop a clove into. It definitely increased the size of the bulb!

Next step is to cure the garlic or letting it dry. While we hung the garlic in the room we grow the transplants the last 2 years, this year there are too many large garlic to do that. The smell would be overwhelming! We decided to dry it in the hay loft of the barn. Lots of space with a lot of heat and very dry to reduce chances of mold.

We are 1 week into the curing process and it needs to dry for 2 weeks before we can sell it. We are very much looking forward to not only eating it ourselves but also to get great customer feedback!

Watch us harvest:

Conserving the Prairie Grass

Although you usually enjoy posts about aspects of the farm such as the garden, bees or chickens, something else important is happening on the farm.

The majority of the property is not being used for farming, it’s being conserved for the wild life. Prairies are becoming endangered due to urban sprawl. The tall grasses of the prairies provides food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. Letting the majority of the property go wild resulted in a wide range of healthy wildlife that we don’t see on neighboring properties that are usually brush mowed.

Deer find tall grass to give birth in so that they are hidden from view. We’ve seen 5 generations born here. Usually 2 fawns at a time. They come back to visit every year. Whole herds seek shelter during storms here.

But deer aren’t the only ones who enjoy our farm. Besides your run of the mill birds, squirrels, rabbits and raccoons, we also routinely see skunk, red and grey fox, coyotes, hawks and eagles. We’ve also been told that bobcats and a cougar have been seen in the area but luckily have not come across them.

We like to enjoy and co-exist with nature rather than eliminate it. We’ve seen some sad situations as a result but have more positive experiences than bad. With high fences around the garden and 1/2 inch wire cloth covering the chicken run and open spots around coop openings, we have never had a break in from a predator or had the garden ravaged. In the end, preservation of the land has been easy to do and very rewarding.

Dill and Butterflies

One of my friends is an heirloom seed collector and shares what she has with me. She shared some dill seed so this year we decided to plant it as some customers have asked for it in the past. We sold some but had more plants than we needed. I figured I’d let them go to seed and collect for next year.

One day I noticed something crawling on the dill and when I got closer noticed all the plants were covered with two different caterpillars! The one pictured above is a black swallowtail and the picture below is a Monarch. While most farmers would probably stalk and kill these “pests”, we figured we have plenty dill to share.

It’s exciting to see how Monarch butterflies really took to our garden considering they are endangered. We decided to grow dill annually just for the butterflies. With free seeds, it’s not a lot of work to go through for expanding the variety of wildlife in our property.

Good and Bad Insects

On the right is a baby praying mantis we found in the garden. These predatory insects eat a lot of bad bugs so I’m excited to find them happily breeding here!

On the left are a couple new beetles we’ve never seen before. These beetles are taking over the broccoli plants and the crowns are getting chewed up. When we tried to identify this beetle we can’t find a perfect match. Two of the closet comparisons are the milk weed beetle and the two spotted stink bug. Theoretically the stink bug is considered beneficial because it eats bad insects, but the question is are they eating up the broccoli in the process?

For good pest management you need to get rid of the bad bugs and allow the good bugs to remain. We better figure out the beetle quick. We have a friend who is an entomologist we are going to have to talk to him to about this one.

4 Hailstorms in 1 Day

Once again we thought we were safe. Nothing but sunshine and 80 degree weather in the weather report. The broccoli outgrew the protective covered tunnel so we removed it. Things looked great!

It’s June 21st and I took time off from my full time job to finish re-planting some transplants from the earlier hailstorms. The night before the meteorologists now predicted snow in the mountains and thunderstorms in our area. It wasn’t until the day off they sent out the Severe Thunderstorm Warning and Tornado Watch. Thunderstorms through the weekend. Hail possibly the size of golf balls!

I stopped what I was doing and pulled down the covers for the lettuce bed, tomatoes, peppers and beans. The squash is still small and low to the ground.and root vegetables are relatively safe as they have a lot of leaves now. Losing a few leaves won’t kill them. The onions and garlic don’t have open leaves so I never worry about them.

Watching helplessly from inside I kept an eye on the pumpkin patch that we had successfully reseeded and transplanted yet again this morning. And then it came! Hours of heavy pouring rain and small hail! It started at 12:30 pm and was on and off until almost 8 PM. In the end it was 4 hail storms that luckily only did a small amount of damage, and we have transplants inside to replace any that may die.

We are concerned again for what tomorrow will bring and wonder…..will this ever end! How far is too far to go to grow the crops you planned? We need to make money and every time we have to grow new transplants or buy new seeds, more money is coming out of our pocket and the extra work is tiring. What will the return on our manual labor investment be?

We are very lucky to not be in a single crop commercial operation. I wonder how many of those farms will have to shut down due to lack of production this year? The weather has been crazy!

Watch the video of me watching the first of 4 hailstorms out the window:

Salad For Sale

Finally after weeks of bad weather we finally have right sized lettuce and spinach up for sale! The snow, thunderstorms and hail went on for so long we were getting worried we might lose one of our best selling crops.

The light colored lettuce at the top is Black Seeded Simpson Leaf Lettuce. It’s an heirloom variety that is so tender, commercial processors can’t sell it because it would bruise before getting to the customer. That’s why you need to buy local produce. You’ve never tasted anything so good.

Behind that lettuce is an Bloomsdale, an heirloom spinach. Seeds were collected at the end of a growing season. We are very happy with how well it is growing in the cool moist weather!

You can see some slow growing red lettuce and next to that is polka dotted heirloom from more collected seed. Those are 4th generation seeds!

At the end front we have Little Gems which is a small romaine that is very crispy and has a nice crunch. There is a lot of flavor in this one. This is our favorite!

Behind the Little Gems is a new variety of spinach I wanted to try called Renegade which does not bolt as easy as your standard spinach. We thought it would be worth a try since the heat here will cause early bolting in the summer. This spinach grew enormous, thick leaves about 6 inches long! They are great for steaming but are very delicate. We are eating most of this ourselves due to tearing of the leaves. We probably will not grow it again .

We are doing succession planting by planting a new single row every 3 weeks so we always have new, young and tender lettuce to sell. It will last into October if the weather doesn’t get too hot or cold through the season.

To build the salad leaves of greens are collected one leaf at a time and field rinsed before being packed in gallon sized bags. Customers order as they want and we deliver directly to them. This has been one of our most successful crops.