post no. 53 – all the summer squash

Think all summer squash and zucchini is the same? Think again!

from left to right: Success PM Straightneck, Genovese Zucchini, Costata Romanesco Zucchini

In 2020 we are growing the 3 types of summer squash/zucchini shown above. Success PM Straightneck plants produce abundantly, and the squash a fairly uniform, attractive, pale yellow. Genovese Zucchini is a fine Italian zucchini with a delicate, smooth, pale green skin. Costata Romanesco is a distinctive Italian variety with pronounced ribbing.

They look different, great. What is the flavor and texture difference, though? Might as well see.

starting to cook up some Costata Romanesco

I prepared each type identically and simply, by sauteing in olive oil and adding some salt and pepper.

First observation: moisture content

Costata Romanesco, the first trial, released a lot of water. The amount wasn’t unpleasant in the end, but it was definitely more than the other two varieties were holding. Genovese Zucchini clearly had a fairly high moisture content as well, but Success PM Straightneck was noticeably drier than the zucchinis when sauteed.

On the moisture count, our favorite (for sauteing) is the Success PM yellow squash!

sauteing Success PM Straightneck yellow squash

Second observation: texture

Costata Romanesco zucchini is strongly ribbed and held up fairly well when sauteed. Sometimes zucchini can dissolve into a puddly mess in the pan, and we didn’t see that with Costata. Genovese zucchini resembled the puddly mess a little more, but we were still very pleased with the texture. While the squash broke down in the pan more than Costata did, we preferred the softer texture of the Genovese when we sampled the squash at the end. Both have a pleasant, fine texture, but Genovese was extremely soft without being mushy. Finally, Success PM Straightneck, with lower water content, unsurprisingly has a different texture than the other two. It broke down least in the pan, and has a pleasant, tender crunch as a result, while still maintaining a tender, fine feel.

On texture, we are pleased with all of the options, but it appears Success PM Straightneck comes away slightly on top again!

all 3, cooked. Clockwise from upper left, Sucess PM Straightneck, Costata Romanesco, and Genovese

Final observation: flavour

I am certain there are other metrics by which we could have judged this squash, but we mostly just like good food and aren’t going to obsess.

This time, let’s start with Genovese and Success PM, which, while differing in texture, have similarly mild flavour. There is a difference, which I would describe as more of a ‘vegetable’ flavor in the Success PM (the inadequacy of my tasting skill becomes obvious). Both varieties have extremely pleasant flavors that are richer/nuttier than an average dark green zucchini. Costata, on the other hand, known for its nuttiness, really stands out as distinctive in both appearance and flavour. The pleasant nutty flavor is a welcome change compared to many bland zucchini types.

We won’t choose a flavor favorite, because we honestly didn’t have one. We choose them all.

Conclusion

We highly recommend all of these squash varieties! In the end, the most honorable mention goes to Success PM Straightneck, which was extremely pleasing in all categories. Fortunately, we sell some containers with a mix of all 3 varieties, clearly the best option.

Whatever squash you eat, including squash not grown by us (what are you thinking?), avoid baseball bats! We simply to not understand why anyone picks/sells/buys fat squash that are a foot or more long: the seeds are tough and enlarged, and the flesh becomes tough or pithy. Choose squash and zucchini that is 5 to 8 inches long, for tenderness, fine flavor, and ease of cooking. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

-Patrick

post no. 52 – garlic scape season

Garlic scape season is SHORT, so I recommend everyone get some soon, and stock up! They’ll store in your fridge up to a month in a plastic bag.

Since it’s harvest day and we are quite busy, this will be quick and to the point. Two points to be exact:

  1. What’s a garlic scape? (maybe you already know)
  2. What are some amazing ways to cook with garlic scapes? (you may have some favorites – share them in a comment!)

What is it?

The scape is the flower stalk of a garlic plant that shoots skyward in June. It does this quickly, and for culinary use scapes should be harvested when they are large (a good foot long) but not yet overgrown and woody. We want the entire scape to be tender and choppable. Apparently there are multiple harvest methods, including using a knife, but I’ve always carefully pulled upward, the scape yielding and eventually breaking, or sometimes coming out of the stem completely (win!).

Nick harvesting garlic scapes earlier today

What to do with it

Use in place of traditional garlic. Scapes are super easy to chop, with no peeling. They should be rinsed lightly and the flower head on the one end should be removed. The entire remaining portion can be chopped up to your liking. I have no food photos because I don’t do that, and I just decided to write this. Try the following:

  1. Saute scapes, and when slightly browned, add some arugula to wilt it. Serve with scrambled eggs (preferably mixed with fresh dill and/or basil) for breakfast (or whenever).
  2. Chop scapes and chard stems and saute until chard stem bits are soft. Add roughly chopped chard leaves and continue to cook, adding some brown rice vinegar, tamari, and a little salt and pepper. Serve with any other delicious thing.
  3. Saute chopped scapes in butter and pour over some pasta, cooked grain, roasted potatoes, polenta, it doesn’t matter because it’ll be so good.

Make garlic scape pesto. A truly fantastic, garlicky pesto can be made with garlic scapes replacing some or all of the basil normally used. Whatever your favorite pesto recipe is (maybe you wing it every time), judiciously replace some basil with scapes. I LOVE garlic, so I go for a complete substitution.

Again, no photo. Actually, here’s another of Nick harvesting scapes today.

Put chopped scapes into burgers! Nick is good at making burgers (grassfeed beef or lamb, or veggie burgers with black beans or lentils). We do not eat them with buns because they’re too good, and usually too small actually (plus we don’t have buns). In any case, chop up some scapes and mix them with your burger material. Grill or fry them. A few thin slices of sharp cheddar on top definitely doesn’t hurt, nicely melted. You will love it. Meat eaters, you can get LAMB at both of our farmers markets. I am less certain about beef. Valley Pasture Farm (Menononie FM) raises beef cattle, but they are currently out of their grassfed ground beef because it’s just that good.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your scapes!!

-ppp

post no. 51 – beets!

June is officially here, almost a third over in fact, and this means so many amazing summer vegetables will be ready soon, yes, even in the north. We are excited for heirloom tomatoes as always, zucchini, multiple cucumber varieties… But the present moment is a great focus too (right?), and presently we love beets.

We start our beets in the greenhouse and transplant into the field. Plus, the first succession has been growing in the high tunnel, experiencing an extended season and increased warmth. For these reasons, our large beets are coming relatively early and are a bridge crop between spring and summer.

carrots on Tuesday in the high tunnel, with lettuce and beets on the right and kale on the left

We grow several types of beets, but the current ones are “Sweet Dakota Bliss”, a beautiful and sweet beet. The seed is Certified Organic and is produced in North Dakota by Prairie Road Organic Seeds, a very small seed producer we ordered from for the first time this year.

Nutrition

Aside from being incredibly delicious, beets are one of the healthiest foods you can eat! They minimally impact blood sugar, despite tasting sweet, and they are a good source of fiber, folate, and potassium. Additionally, the antioxidant levels of beets are high: 9 times higher, in fact, than a typical tomato and 50 times higher than orange carrots. The leaves are extremely nutritious as well, and actually contain more antioxidants than the beet root. (source: Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson)

washing beets last summer

Cooking

Fortunately it doesn’t take much to prepare some damn good beets. My favorite preparation method, which is simple and showcases the excellent taste of a good beet, is boiling beets whole with the skin still on. Once a fork is easily inserted in the beets they are done, and they should be transferred to a bowl of ice water. The rapid temperature change will loosen the skin, which can be rubbed off with your thumb! Nick and I recently cooked up some beets this way, and then chopped them coarsely and heated in some oil with chopped scallion. We then added crumbled Gorgonzola and were FINISHED with an exquisite, simple, creamy beet salad.

Another simple strategy, which I love, is to peel and chop beets and saute in oil or butter. I tend to do this for breakfast alongside some fried eggs. I will also brown some chopped garlic in a pan with butter, and toss in the chopped beet greens. There’s breakfast for 2 farmers made with 4 eggs and 2 beets!

Finally a reminder:

Black Lives Matter

A statement so painfully obvious that is also somehow contentious in 2020. Peace.

-ppp

post no. 50 – farm updates for May 2020

This first month of our 2020 market season, while not over quite yet, has been exciting and busy. But before getting to market news and thanking folks who’ve supported our business especially during the pandemic, here’s some of what is going on at the farm.

farm visitors

We’ve welcomed a few people to the farm, for plant purchases mostly, both from the surrounding area and some who trekked out from Minneapolis. It is a wonderful opportunity, and we continue to offer open sales hours 2-7 each Friday!

spring crops/summer crops

following Monday’s rain: the most glorious garlic we’ve grown

In this part of the year, we are harvesting spring crops like kale, radishes, Napa cabbage, and beets, while also planting and tending summer crops, which include cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, and carrots (sort of a spring-summer hybrid).

tomatoes reaching upward from a sea of baby mustard greens

In the high tunnel, spring crops like mustard greens, radishes, and baby lettuces saw the addition of tomato plants almost a month ago, and the 2 crop types have been living mostly harmoniously ever since! Once these spring crops have been harvested, the beds will belong to tomatoes alone, with the simple addition of basil.

seasonal favorites

We are gearing up for the first harvest of Bear Necessities kale, the only crop we grow that several customers ask for using the variety name. It’s an amazing, super frilly kale for effortlessly creating a kale salad or incorporating into any other salad!

Bear Necessities kale interplanted with Red Barron onion

soil health

We have experienced 2 periods of heavy rain in the past 8 days, and we think it is essential to minimize the amount of bare soil that can be washed away by heavy rains.

2 future carrot beds planted with an oats & peas cover crop

Some of our growing areas will not be planted until late June to, in the case of garlic, mid-October, and rather than keeping them bare or allowing weeds to grow, we sow certain cover crop seeds. Cover crops add organic material – carbon – to soil, and some, including peas, are legumes that produce nitrogen with the assistance of certain bacteria. The oats & peas cover crop above will be mowed with a scythe in about a week and then solarized (using clear plastic) for a couple of sunny days to kill the cover crop. In a few weeks, without having to till the soil at any point, carrot seeds will be sown here for early fall harvest.

farmers markets

Back to the subject of markets: we have been busy, and we have so much gratitude. We were happy to offer pre-orders for plants right away, adding fresh produce as the month progressed. Our plant inventory is almost sold out (we will continue to offer what we still have at market), and especially during this time of extreme uncertainty, we appreciate every single person who chose to buy something from us during the month of May.

Midtown Farmers Market, 8 AM, on May 23

During parts of April, many farmers and other producers did not know if farmers markets would run at all, and both of our markets have taken serious care to keep customers and vendors safe. In an outdoor environment, with special precautions to maintain distance and suppress the spread of respiratory illness, we think the farmers market is THE best way to be getting food, plants, snacks, flowers, and more.

It will not be long until the produce offerings shift from spring specialties (kale, radishes, arugula) to summer delights (cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, and salad mix throughout, we hope!), and we are grateful to be in it this season especially.

Thanks for reading and take care!!

-patrick

post no. 49 – plant sale!

In what feels like a handful of days, this spring season went from cold and slow to appreciably warmer, and full of the great work that we expect! The high tunnel is protecting early beets, carrots, salad greens, kale, and more. We’ve planted potatoes and snap peas, and are preparing more garden beds daily, with outdoor onions, kale, scallions, beets, chard, and carrots soon to be in the soil.

At the same time, seedlings in the greenhouse are growing fast (especially the tomatoes!) and we are excited to get plants out to local gardeners starting next week!

Rose de Berne and Tiny Tim tomato plants in the greenhouse

Why do we love growing plants for home gardeners? Let me number the reasons.

1. Heirloom and other interesting varieties

What is possible most fun about all of this is sharing with gardeners some of our favorite vegetable varieties from some of our favorite seed producers! Some of the best conversations last season happened in May on the topic of plants and gardening.

Some of our favorite heirloom tomato varieties, which will be available to gardeners, are Rose de Berne (pink and juicy/meaty with rich flavor) and Jaune Flamme (red-orange, juicy French heirloom with a flavor that pops). For peppers, some notable options are Czech Black, which produces gorgeous, purple-black hot peppers similar to jalapenos, and Chimayo chile, which is known as a superb drying pepper, producing outstanding chile powder.

Czech Black hot pepper. The foliage also takes on a stunning purple tone!

We are also offering some herbs and perennial flowers. We grow an uncommon variety of lemon balm called Quedlinburger Niederliegende (try saying that 5 times fast; or even just once), noted for its elevated essential oil content compared to common lemon balm. Among the perennial flowers we offer, milkweed stands out as a plant folks are increasingly concerned about because of its critical importance in the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Our milkweed plants are grown from seed produced by wild milkweed on our farm, collected this winter.

There are so many other great varieties: white cherry tomato, sweet Genovese basil, wild bergamot, Ellen Felton dark collard greens, and on and on! I have to stop somewhere. Please read about all of them on our pre-order page!

2. Certified Organic varieties from awesome producers

We have grown everything from seed, and all of the seed is Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown. Why is this important? From an ethical standpoint, conventional seed production is quite harmful; to produce seeds, plants must progress to the very end of their reproductive cycle, and this means there is even more chance for disease and damage, and thus the ‘need’ for more pesticide usage. This contaminates surface- and groundwater and poisons insect and animals.

Another great reason to grow from organic or naturally grown seed is that these plants are genetically predisposed to grow vigorously in organic conditions! So, unless you are coating your own garden in pesticides, choose plants grown from Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown Seed!)

Some of the lesser-known seed companies we purchase from include: Hudson Valley Seed Company, Adaptive Seeds, and Prairie Road Organic Seeds. I encourage anyone to check out their websites, even if not buying anything right now. Their work is life sustaining!

Watering seedlings on April 23

3. SKIP THE PLASTIC

Black nursery plastic, while usually sporting the #6 recycling symbol, is not widely recyclable, though most likely millions of people send them to recycling centers anyway. There does not seem to be any great recommendations, aside from reuse, for these matierals. One site I visited encourages readers to visit a plastic recycling company to see if they can take these pots. REALLY!?

Every one of our plants comes in a 100% biodegradable and compostable peat-based pot. This comes at a greater expense to us and also has required a bit of special care, as fiber pots don’t retain water as well as plastic. However, the advantage of completely eliminating plastic waste is a wonderful one. Additionally, root growth is more fibrous and branching than in plastic, and transplanting in the home garden is extremely easy – I recommend placing the potted plant in the soil with its pot, and then watering generously to help soften the pot so that roots can easily spread outward.

peppers peppers peppers! (in biodegradable pots)

4. Delivery and Pickup in Menomonie and South Minneapolis

Plants will be available (along with the earliest spring produce!) at the Midtown Farmers Market starting May 2!

The farm will also be open for sales on Fridays from 2-8pm starting May 1.

Availability begins at the Menomonie Farmers Market on May 16.

Orders of $30 or more can be delivered to your home for free! This applies to folks in Menomonie or in the vicinity of the Midtown Farmers Market.

See you soon!

Thanks for reading.

-ppppp

Hey, we have a sign now!

post no. 48 -preparation!

The hustle and excitement of spring is here, but I doubt anyone questions why this spring feels different, even on the farm where our work is relatively solitary. My thoughts are often with friends and family elsewhere, almost all of whom reside in more densely populated places than I. I can’t help imagining how I’d feel living in a big city right now, or working in a crowded, large environment, or for that matter not working at all and worrying about getting by. I feel for those folks and feel fortunate to be here working hard. I also feel so much appreciation for people serving the community at this time, especially health care workers. I can’t imagine what it is like right now, but you are all amazing.

On the farm, life is bustling. Farmers markets in Minnesota and Wisconsin are deemed essential businesses and are running as scheduled, though understandably without craft, art, and prepared food vendors and without music and special events. This means we are gearing up for another season, and hoping that customers make it out to visit us in a safe way.

Why visit a farmers market and support local food producers in a time of crisis, like the current pandemic? The reasons are many and varied, and they are also the same for what we’d call ‘normal’ times. But considering the way folks think differently about community resources, plus the increased focus on health and wellness, the importance of supporting small farms and local food networks is amplified.

Transparency and Safety

Are you concerned about the safety of the food you buy? We know that any day of the year, contamination in shipped fresh produce (bagged spinach and other greens, for sure) is a possibility that could cause us to feel extremely ill and possibly send us to the hospital. We also know, though certain interests would tell us otherwise, that local greens available at the farmers market pose less of a contamination threat. At the market, concerns can (and should) be relayed to growers as direct questions, and we, for instance, are happy to describe how we’ve handled and washed any produce, to give each customer the facts they need to judge the safety of everything we sell.

Health and Wellness

What determines the likelihood that any of us will become ill, any time? Dietary choices and immune system health, while not the whole story, are critical. (NOTE: I am not a dietitian!) Local produce is considerably fresher than anything shipped from warmer climates, and for many vegetables the difference here is stark. Fresh broccoli is notorious for a rapid decline in nutrition after harvest. Just six days after harvest, broccoli has been shown to contain half the antioxidant activity and only 30% of the vitamin C and beta-carotene originally contained (source). Supermarket broccoli, as well as kale, lettuce, and other greens can easily be several days old and will not pack the nutritional punch that local greens will provide.

seeding radishes in the high tunnel this week

Growing practices are also vastly different between producers. We closely analyze soil tests and add organic amendments in order to balance soil minerals. This mineral balancing results in more nutritionally complete produce, a fact that can be demonstrated using plant tissue analysis!

The Local Economy

In a state of crisis or near-crisis, where do I direct my financial support? Our farm continues to purchase from local and trusted suppliers, like Cowsmo for compost and potting mix and multiple small seed companies that offer quality seeds, transparency, and guidance. We are also considering acquiring a second wheel hoe, a shockingly effective tool that conditions our soil and controls weeds and runs on human power alone. Personally, I purchase food from the local co-op, and let’s be honest, it’s April and there isn’t much more to go around. My point is that in light of the current situation, our choices of where to send our financial resources is critical. Anyone who purchases plants or produce from us this season should know those funds will be used thoughtfully (always) and close to home (whenever possible).

‘potting up’ pepper plants prior to transplanting, scheduled for early May

The new greenhouse is packed with garden seedlings for folks in the Menomonie area and in Minneapolis: tomatoes, peppers, greens, cukes, herbs, and amazing perennial flowers. The first green sprouts are expected in the high tunnel any time now. My stress level this spring has been significantly lower than in past years, and I certainly hope that is a result of personal growth and mindfulness. But I don’t doubt that a big part is due to the joy and gratitude that comes from doing good work amongst singing migratory birds, thick mulch, and healthy soil, feelings heightened by the knowledge of the hardships people around the world are facing right now. It is an amazing opportunity to produce goods that Nick and I have COMPLETE trust in.

We look forward to connecting from a safe distance with folks at markets, and we will be sharing more information soon about other ways customers can reach us.

Thanks for reading!

patrick

post no. 47 – season 3!

It’s 2020! The blog has been quiet for almost half a year, and I apologize. But here’s to a new growing season, with a new website, new greenhouse, new high tunnel, and the same (although feeling renewed) farmers!

In this post I’d like to share the results of lots of hard work back in the fall, how our practices will change with a high tunnel, and what we are excited about for the 2020 season.

My singular obsession in the fall (that’s how it felt, at least), and a reason for the absence of blog activity, was the construction of a high tunnel in our crop field, the first very visible alteration to the lower section of the farm. At 30′ wide and 96′ long, it covers about 2600 square feet of soil surface, enough to grow the earliest and latest vegetables of the season, plus a small selection of summer vegetables that will do great in a hot environment.

It was a major undertaking, and we are eternally grateful to the many people who assisted, starting with unloading the 4500-pound delivery and ending with the final pieces lifted into place in November. Our farming neighbors, non-farming neighbors, relatives of neighbors, and many of our own relatives all showed up at various moments, providing a massive amount of help to the 2 of us. We absolutely could not have done this without them and they all deserve mouthwatering, juicy heirloom tomatoes in 2020!

A high tunnel does not have a floor: it covers the same soil that is found outside of it, but the soil inside is kept warmer and is not exposed to precipitation. This combination of conditions requires special care of the soil and crops in a high tunnel. Commonly, for example, certain nutrients can accumulate due to the lack of soaking rain and snowfall, which ordinarily leaches nutrients from the top soil. We will provide regular irrigation, given the lack of rainfall in the tunnel, and we will likely devise a way to collect rainfall, so that we are not only watering with our well water, which is very hard and over time would alter the soil pH.

And the benefits of a high tunnel? Lots. We intend to significantly extend the season, both into spring and fall, for cold-hardy crops including kale, carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce, arugula, and turnips. The high tunnel will provide protection in cold weather, preventing crops from being damaged by frost (at least until a really deep freeze). Between those periods, heat-loving crops like tomatoes, basil, and peppers will grow healthily in the abundant heat. They also benefit from protection from rainfall, a major cause of the spreading of disease in this sensitive crops.

Work has begun in the tunnel! The surrounding field is frozen solid with a snow and ice blanket, but the soil within is soft, workable, and warm. The high tunnel should significantly change our season compared to last year, with higher production from less space.

The small greenhouse, in its inaugural year, is already contributing to a less stressful and more productive very early season, accommodating far more trays than the old structure could. Our production of garden seedlings, for sale at farmers markets and at the farm, is more than doubled compared to last year, in large part because we now have more space and a much more reliable greenhouse.

So, what are we excited for in 2020? A lot. We will return to the Midtown Farmers Market at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. We intend (pending application) to also be at the Menomonie Farmers Market for the first time, helping to develop a stronger relationship with neighbors and customers who live very close to the farm. Our market stalls will be full of garden seedlings in May, including heirloom tomatoes, a variety of herbs, and some of our favorite pollinator-friendly perennial herbs and flowers. Finally, we hope to be present each moment of this season, taking the ups and downs in stride and not overworking ourselves (the hardest task of the year?).

We are excited to see you and hear from you in 2020! Thanks for reading.

-pppp

post no. 46: after a long break

Following the longest blog break yet, we are still here, still growing and harvesting, still weeding (yes, really), and still thinking about some exciting projects coming very soon. The lack of updates via the blog is due, quite simply, to the fact that we’ve been extremely busy, with off-farm work combined with a laborious on-farm experience: plant diseases, excessive weed growth, and the general challenges of the second year (as described but not even fully realized in the last post) have kept us busy and, unfortunately, have meant smaller-than-expected harvest for a number of crops.

To make up for 3 months’ worth of missed blog posts, I will share some significant events or observations from this summer, plus what’s going on right now and what is planned!

summer crops

Tomatoes were a very important crop in our first season, and much care went into tomato preparation for 2019, including beds and trellising, as well as selection of some new and some tried and favored varieties. Our main tomato area, on a sloped portion of our field, looks terraced (and is, slightly) and was pretty stunning, we thought, early on.

Crops like tomatoes and peppers are very susceptible to moisture-related diseases that can be fungal or bacterial in nature, and this summer, on our farm, was a challenging one for tomatoes specifically. Conditions including frequent rain and heavy dew forming on the plants EVERY night favored the spread of Septoria Leaf Spot, in our case, which is common but can spread and have devastating effects if left untreated and if high moisture conditions persist (which they very much did). We have been fortunate to have harvested many delicious and beautiful heirloom and cherry tomatoes this season (we continue to collect small amounts into September), but tomato management has taken much more energy than expected and much of the fruit has been unmarketable.

soil management

Our soil is wonderful and we are committed to keeping it in place and to improving it by increasing organic matter and maintaining a healthy nutrient and mineral balance. I have been using the scythe since last summer to produce mulch for vegetable beds (we also use leaves in the fall), but it is not reasonable to produce enough straw mulch to effectively cover the entire growing area. Other options include purchasing large quantities of straw, which we cannot afford, or purchasing large quantities of compost, which is also very expensive and heavy, which means lots of fuel used to transport it and much labor expended by us to move it from the roadside to each bed.

The promising alternative to those alternatives involves the use of craft paper underneath a relatively thin layer of straw. The acquisition of craft paper rolls is especially suited to our operation, as we can pick it up on our return trip from the Midtown Farmers Market. It is very thin and breaks down fully within a season, but it acts as a significant barrier, initially, to weed growth, and it allows us to use much less straw than would normally be required to mulch a garden area. Below is a bed with mulch freshly removed (raked off to each side), and on the left, Alabama Blue collard greens with a nicely mulched adjacent bed.

A massive benefit of paper (or cardboard, as long as it does not have color ink), in addition to weed suppressing action, is that worms love it, and the evidence of increased worm activity under these mulches is very clear. Not only do we see worms when beds are uncovered, but the soil underneath tends to be fluffy enough that I can push my whole hand in, with no tilling whatsoever, except that performed by earthworms.

Our mulching process goes as follows:

  1. We prepare the bed or beds by pulling any crops or large weeds out. For especially good care, we will lightly hoe the surface.

  2. Compost and organic fertilizer is spread on the bed surface.

  3. Craft paper is pulled over the area. We purchase rolls that are 3 feet wide by 1200 feet long (the roll isn’t actually very large though), and mount them onto a SUPER simple stand that I made from leftover 2×4 scraps and some screws.

  4. The paper is very thin and light and will blow around like crazy. So we do not apply it when windy, and we generally work together. Immediately after it is pulled the length of the bed, it is covered with a very thin sprinkling of wood chips for initial weight and a touch of extra fungal magic.

  5. More sheets are pulled, overlapping at least 3 inches with the previous one.

  6. We spread loads of grass/clover mulch or leaves over the paper and chips, just enough so the paper is mostly no longer visible.

That’s it! It isn’t EASY, because we are still doing everything by hand, but it is EFFECTIVE at preserving the soil when cover crop is unsuitable. Generally, we will mulch in this way in early summer to preserve a bed that will be planted or seeded later. We also will use this mulch at the end of the season, to provide some food and protection to the bed for the fall and winter. We are also in the process of growing cover crop in beds that are done for the season, and then cutting it and mulching for winter, which will happen in about a month.

We have ALSO transplanted directly into this mulch (so far with just kale and rutabaga), and the resulting beds have been fluffier and have had greatly reduced weeds compared to unmulched beds. Below is this fall’s garlic area (still quite small), prepared as described above. We will plant into it and then apply additional mulch for winter protection.

 this makes me very happy
this makes me very happy

upcoming projects!

If you’re still reading, way to go! And thanks!

There are TWO big projects we are excited about this fall.

  1. high tunnel

    We are going to build a high tunnel! A high tunnel is a protected growing area, like a greenhouse, that is built in the field. We have ordered and will be constructing, starting sometime this month, a steel high tunnel measuring 30 feet wide by 96 feet long by 14 feet high (at the peak).

    It is exciting! We are excited! And I will share more as it happens, including, I suppose, many, many photos.

  2. art studios/fundraising

    Yes! We’ve been talking about it for one-and-a-half years, and we will finally be drawing up plans, acquiring materials, and constructing individual studios and shared work spaces in our large barn.

    This process will involve patching the steel roof so that it is waterproof, framing and finishing studio walls, updating the electricity in the barn, acquiring a few useful tools for artists/makers, and constructing facilities like an outdoor shower supplied by rainwater runoff from the barn roof.

    Most of the labor will be completed by us, with help from amazing friends along the way, surely. But it will require funds that are not currently available to us, though nothing at all excessive. Please look out for more updates, coming soon, concerning fundraising for this plan that we are SO excited about.

A final bank of photos for this post. Fedco Seeds mis-packed some flower seeds we were very excited about. Instead of purple globe amaranth, which we thought we had seeded, we got these, which are amazing! “New Day Formula Mix” Gazania. Very tidy and compact, they’d be great for a garden border.

Thanks for reading!

-ppp

post no. 45: the second year

It is a rare early end to the work day (6 pm, writing on Tuesday), breezy, cold, raining again. And while I very well should be sitting back and reading Eileen Myles, I am doing THIS, because May 2019 deserves a Hexagon blog post, IMHO. After a frustrating day dealing with weeds and anxiety, I am excited to tell the story of the second year, which on a new vegetable farm often comes with surprises that are not very fun surprises (but also good stuff).

 view to the southwest from our road
view to the southwest from our road

crop report

First, what have we been harvesting and bringing to market? It is not quite the end of May and we have already harvested for 3 markets! The last was canceled due to a threatening Saturday forecast, but we harvested most items prior to the notification, and they included kale, French breakfast radishes, our spring salad mix (4 types of lettuce, red mustard greens, and baby beet greens), and loads of beautiful stinging nettle.

A large portion of our market stall has been devoted to garden seedlings, which are great for starting (and continuing) conversations with customers. We are focusing on some relatively uncommon flowers and herbs, including borage, lovage, chervil, lemon balm, feverfew, strawflower, and purple globe amaranth, as well as basil and thyme. This coming Saturday we will also start bringing our wonderful heirloom tomato starts that will hopefully be planted in lots of Corcoran and Longfellow neighborhood gardens! In the field, we are looking forward to the first sweet, white salad turnips very soon, along with a new, cold-hardy heirloom collard we are trying out.

the 2nd year

One place to start the discussion of the second year is our expectation that the farm will be profitable in 2019! For a reminder of some of the fund-draining putzing we were engaged in 1 year ago, go back to this post. With most of the needed infrastructure in place, like the greenhouse and cooler we built, costs are relatively low. We vend at a swell farmers market and are a part of the brand new (and to date very small) western Wisconsin based cooperative CSA, Local Choice. Before leaving it at ‘profit’, however, I will point out that we, the farm owners, provide all of the labor and likely will not pay ourselves for the second year. So my definition of profit is awfully loose, as the equation does not include labor costs whatsoever (more on that in the future, perhaps).

The takeaway here is a satisfying sense of progress and the hope that we will shift to residency and internship planning as our farm systems are more in place!

Now, especially for you non-farmers, here is some fun news: technical aspects of growing, such as fertility and weed pressure, is sometimes more challenging in year 2 than in year 1. And, you guessed, that is the case here. The big challenge we are dealing with this month is rampant growth of weeds, especially grasses, in our vegetable and fruit beds (both annuals and perennials). This is commonly a second- and third-year problem because the weed pressure does not become apparent until the soil is worked for a full season and then prepared the following spring. Working the soil with aggressive tillage is a way to beat back such weeds in a relatively short period of time, but we do not do that. Instead, we are slightly adjusting our long-term plans (scaling back field expansion) and determining how to collect as much mulch as possible. Instead of aggressive tillage, we would opt for aggressive mulching (mulching being a particularly unaggressive activity).

 addressing the grass problem with loads of hand weeding
addressing the grass problem with loads of hand weeding

Weed pressure this spring is exacerbated by the cold temperatures and extremely frequent and heavy rainfall, which favors aggressive (word of the day) weed growth and conditions that make bed preparations difficult. To picture what I mean, consider that yesterday I uncovered a 100-foot-long bed of carrots that had recently germinated. It was already sprinkling outside and soil was still wet from the previous rainfall, and I beheld a bed containing about 90% plants we’d consider weeds, and no more than 10% carrots. It sounds awful, but conditions like this are well known and demonstrate why farming is such hard work.

Thanks for reading!

-pppppp

We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.

post no. 44: a year in the life

On April 4th we enjoyed the relative calm and warmth of the new caterpillar tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure homemade from PVC, rebar, rope, and greenhouse plastic. A cold rain was falling and a brisk wind blowing outside, and we prepared a 100-foot long bed for an upcoming early planting of kale and beets.

This was our first experience working a bed following the cover crop established there in the fall, and the effectiveness was exciting news to me. Adding to that the fact that this is the very first bed we worked on, including before we owned the farm, I wanted to describe the life of this one bed. There are so many cycles around here, including the many transformations of a single bed.

October 26, 2017

The field is full of rye and tillage radish, and Nick is at the farm for the home inspection over a week before closing. Our friend Liz joins, and they broadfork the very first bed and plant garlic cloves!

February 7, 2018

In early December, we were able to mulch the garlic bed with straw just before the first snow and hard freeze. By February, the bed is covered in snow and temperatures are low. I dig out some of the snow so that we can receive a compost delivery at the edge of the field.

March & April, 2018

At the end of March, snow begins to melt, the mulch becoming visible. In late April, after a big spring snowfall, most snow has melted, but garlic shoots haven’t made it through the mulch yet.

May 2018

Garlic is growing through the mulch. It was the only crop planted over the winter, so its emergence was very exciting that first year. Once it is established, we add some compost and organic fertilizer to the bed, then lightly disturb the mulch and water it all in.

July 24, 2018

I skipped the harvesting of scapes, which are the shoots at the top of a garlic plant containing seed pods at their tops. Scapes are delicious and fun to harvest, but we didn’t get any photos of this in 2018! Garlic bulbs were harvested in late July, also a fun task, and we carted them away for curing in the very solid cart my father built for us.

Since we planted a small amount of garlic, it was only used for (1) personal use, which we are still taking advantage of; and (2) seed for the 2019 crop (individual cloves get planted in the fall).

July 30, 2018

To avoid this bed becoming a weedy/compacted mess, and since I was mowing the surrounding field by hand to create straw, we covered it in a thick straw mulch to keep the soil healthy. (Hey, I’m in one of the photos!)

September 5, 2018

In August I finally get my act together and order organic cover crop seed. We are curious to see how hand-scale cover cropping works, and we also do not have enough mulch for all of the beds! In August I sow oats and lentils in this bed after raking the surface, and by early September it has grown to be a very nice stand! This mixture should be ideal because it will be killed over the winter, leaving soil covered by mulch in the spring.

March 2019

It’s late winter! To get the season rolling, we work on the homemade caterpillar tunnel that will enclose the bed of interest, plus 2 others. The cat. tunnel is so named because viewed from the side, it is segmented and resembled a caterpillar’s shape. Fortunately, some of the rebar was pounded into the ground in December. But not all.

Our friends Nathan and Emily come over on a Sunday and the three of us lay the plastic and secure it with bailing twine. Of course we celebrate.

April 4, 2019

We finally get into the tunnel and view the thawed ground! It only takes an hour to pull out dead cover crop and weeds from the 100-foot bed to reveal gorgeous soil that is ready to go without even a broadfork or hoe to break anything up. Just below is a before and after comparison.

Nicholas in action.

Now to decide what bed or process shall be the subject of the next story!

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.