Beets Overwintered

It worked! It’s almost Christmas and the beets are still being harvested in great condition! A little hay and a fabric cover hooped over the row of beets have kept them just the right temperature through multiple snow storms.

The cold snaps the root vegetables experienced under the covered hoop tunnels actually made them taste even better! The carrots were so sweet and even the beets had a brighter flavor. Also, the texture of the beets were not as hard as they usually are during the summer.

The extra beets were eventually pulled just before a multi-day near zero temperature spell. We did not want to potentially lose them to the freeze. Are finishing the harvest, the beets lasted in the fridge into February!

Since there were so many beets we tried our hand at pickled beets which is something my mother used to feed me when I was growing up. This too was successful.

2019 was the best year to date for successfully storing and preserving excess vegetables!

Garlic Strings

We still have a lot of garlic left from harvest so decided to come up with a culinary gift our customers couldn’t refuse! The Garlic Braid!

Garlic Braids are usually made during harvest, not after the garlic is cured. Once the garlic is harvested but before it’s hung to dry/cure, the greens on top of the garlic are braided together while they are soft. We can add as many heads of garlic as we want into the braid but fewer is better. No more than 6 from what we understand. Garlic needs lots of air circulation to keep it dry stored successfully. Too many heads on a braid will reduce air circulation and increase chances of rot. Garlic should be stored in a paper bag at room temperature to stay dry.

Since we had already cured the garlic, the greens had already dried and were too brittle to braid. I did some online research and found it is possible to braid hard neck garlic if you save enough of the neck when you cut the dried greens off.

So we tried this method which started with a series of strings in the center and then folding the necks around the string in a stacking manner. The end result is a nice looking ornamental piece for the holiday that you can also use for cooking!

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.