Farm Week: October 13, 2014

This was a great rebound week on the farm. The weather held, and we peeled away a few more layers. We sent out the second to last boxes of the season, and we harvested lots of late fall goodies for a local festival this weekend. From the Land is a folk arts, crafts, and agricultural festival held on a nearby farm that draws a loyal crowd from central Wisconsin and beyond. Just as at Harvest Fest, the big hit this weekend were the Brussels sprouts. At least a few dozen people commented that they had no idea sprouts grew on a stalk like that, and even more people were tickled that we were charging by the foot instead of by the pound or by the stalk. On Saturday, we sold so many stalks of Brussels sprouts that our customers were walking billboards walking around the festival. It just goes to show that novelty sometimes does pay off. Even if that novelty is just a desire not to have to take all those sprouts off all those stalks. Sometimes marketing isn’t just about online buzz - a good old-fashioned word of mouth ground-swell does the trick just as well.

Thinking about: branding, clean slates, the “better next year” list

Eating: more arugula salads, more homemade pasta dishes, that thing they do at the fair where they shave a potato into one big pile of ribbons and fry it into a giant pile of chips

Reading: John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, MOSES’s Guidebook for Organic Certification

Farm Week: October 6, 2014

The light is different. I’m no longer turning away from the sun. It’s lower in the sky, and I’m turning my face up to meet it. This week was further along the countdown to the end of the season. We have two boxes left, and Friday was the last outdoor market in the park in Green Lake. We are slowly peeling off layers just as we’re starting to put them back on. We did the first round of our chicken harvest, and seeing even thirty fewer chickens in the field is a good feeling. Our last pregnant sow of the year (Dot), has been big as a house for weeks. Every day I would go out and do chores and she was bigger and lower and fuller than ever. Every day, it was with disbelief that I reported that no, there was no little pile of pigs out there. Along with the creeping frost and the falling leaves, the ever-ballooning sow contributed to a strange week where time simultaneously sped by and stood still. This week more than most, we had to stop to think about what day it was. Thursday brought the annual organic certification inspection, a five hour process that also contributed to the smearing of the time-space continuum on the farm. The peppers and the tomatoes in the field are wilted and dead. The greenhouse is half empty, planted with some lettuce and awaiting the winter spinach. The sow finally farrowed on Sunday (pictures to come), large enough to feed all eight pigs for years. Time passes. Frost falls, and the sun comes to save us. One of these days, the sun will be too low and the frost will stay. Until then, we’ve got some more harvesting to do. 

Thinking about: paperwork, processes, socks

Eating: homemade Indian eggplant and potatoes and cauliflower with rice; arugula with grated carrot, daikon radish, and apples tossed in a creamy lime sriracha dressing; lentil soup with homemade wheat oregano breadsticks

Reading: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, MOSES’s Guidebook for Organic Certification

Farm Week: September 29, 2014

It was Homecoming week here in Green Lake, and it was a cold and blustery one. All week, we made preparations for the impending killing frost. There were some last harvests from the warm-weather summer staples like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. We started to rip out rows of greenhouse tomatoes in preparation for seeding some winter greens. More and more of the growing space is already in cover crops or almost ready to plow under in favor of some cover crops. The pigs are pigging out on the overripe melons and the underripe winter squash. All of our crates are filled with winter vegetables and we’re going to have to get more crates for the second time in a week before we finish the potato harvest. The slate is slowly being wiped clean, and it feels good. As excited as we were for the first tomatoes of the season, the demise of the tomatoes feels just as momentous. My mason jars are filled for winter, and now I just want to be done harvesting them, cleaning them, sorting them, selling them. Our field tomatoes especially are a very visual reminder of our failings earlier in the season, and when we no longer have to pass that mess on the way out to the field, the “better next year” mantra will ring slightly more true. We only have three more boxes to pack, one more Friday market, one more big festival, before things settle down. Well, we keep telling ourselves that things will settle down, but the list of things we’ll finally get down when things settle down is growing rapidly enough to postpone the actually settling down by quite awhile. Whatever that reality may be, the plants themselves are slowing, and the layers are coming back on. It’s a breath of fresh air. 

Thinking about: cold fronts, cold fingers, cold storage

Eating: creamy nettle soup, homemade swiss chard mac and cheese, potato leek soup, taco night with refried homegrown black beans 

Reading: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, David James Duncan's The Brothers K

Farm Week: September 22, 2014

We’ve had quite the week of Indian summer this week, enough to finally start ripening outdoor tomatoes and peppers at a reasonable rate. Looking down at the bins of tomatoes we harvested from our outdoor plants, I couldn’t help but feel that we’ve benefitted from some borrowed time. There was a real chance a few weeks ago of a pretty solid frost, so I’m feeling especially grateful for these last two batched of canned sauce. We spent the week mostly harvesting, not only for the CSA boxes but for this weekend’s Harvest Festival. Green Lake loves tourists, and nothing attracts a bunch of tourists like two days full of farm fresh produce, arts and crafts/craps, a parade, a classic car show, and fried cheese curds. Fortunately/unfortunately, our stand full of fresh organic vegetables was situated immediately next to the very popular fried cheese curd stand. We were downwind on Saturday, but fortunately the wind favored us on Sunday, and we didn’t go home smelling like used cooking oil for a second time. We had a few big hits this weekend. Fortuitously, our shiitake logs chose this weekend to send forth the first flush of fruits this fall. We harvested the first of our Brussels sprouts, which we sell right on the stalk. We also brought some really giant kohlrabi, which was eye-catching and conversation-starting at the very least. We sold out of Brussels sprouts three times (I ran back to the farm to harvest more on Sunday morning), and we still had requests all afternoon that we couldn’t fill. All three of these conversation-starters resulted in lots of educational conversations, which resulted in notably fewer sales. Smiling and explaining is part of any market, but the sheer volume of people passing by raised the educational component exponentially. It turns out that people who only stop in the farmers market section to buy cheese curds usually don’t know what a kohlrabi is, that Brussels sprouts grow on stalks, or that you can grow mushrooms. I don’t mind explaining things, but I do wish that more people would feel a little pull to buy something after taking up my time to learn something. The two-day-long market was also a good opportunity to see what really moved product that doesn’t necessarily sell itself. A few observations: little signs labeling bags prevents people from having to feel stupid asking what a beet is, people are less likely to pick out mushrooms from a giant basket than to pick up a quart or a pint of them, and that the old trope location location location really rings true on a market table. 

Finally, some very exciting news on the Future Farm front, in which my uncle Paul has used a sweet new tractor implement to open up the first few small fields. They’re far away from the farmhouse, down at the end of an old horse pasture, so they’ll be for growing crops that are not favored but he omnipresent grazing deer, like onions, garlic, winter squash, dried beans, and eventually even potatoes. They’re a hundred feet long and 5-6 beds wide. We laid out the terraces last weekend, and he send me this picture taken from the road after he finished tilling the three parcels for the first time:

Photo courtesy Paul C.

Thinking about: variety, salesmanship, farm dogs

Eating: bacon kale quiche, homemade spaghetti bolognese, tiny testing tastes of canned sauces

Reading: David James Duncan's The Brothers K, Ron Macher’s Making Your Small Farm Profitable, Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest

Farm Week: September 15, 2014

It’s been an exciting week here in the life! The weather once again swung from bundling up to stripping down, and our crops mostly seem to be taking it in stride. The deer seem to have gotten hungrier all of the sudden, and we’ve faced a bit of a full frontal attack. They’ve chomped down a few dozen brussels sprouts, carrot tops, beet tops, and kale. So far we can absorb that loss, but we’re definitely turning back on the electric fencing between the growing space and the woods. We also harvested our honey on Friday afternoon, which was fun, if a little messy. In preparing to harvest, I went out by myself earlier in the week to check on them and realized that while I could take a full (50lb) box of honey and bees off the shoulder-height stack, lifting it back on was a different story! Definitely something to think about when deciding which method to use to keep bees on my farm.

Speaking of my farm, I had a very productive (though short) visit down to the “Future Farm” this weekend. In preparation for opening up some ground, my uncle Paul and I flagged and mowed some contoured strips in the old horse pasture. I think they look great, and I’m excited to see what they’ll look like when the ground is turned over. It will be a great start for next year, and I left on Sunday evening feeling energized and excited about what’s happening. For as much as I think about what I want to do, I still have lots of planning left ahead of me!

Thinking about: water flow, deer pressure, specifics

Eating: homemade black bean and sweet potato chili with chicken and brown rice, the most delicious sourdough crust wood fired pizzas in Wisconsin

Reading: David James Duncan's The Brothers K, Ron Macher’s Making Your Small Farm Profitable, Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest

Farm Week: September 8, 2014

It's a race against frost here in Central Wisconsin, and so far we seem to be winning. I've finally gotten around to real preservation, and the weekend was spent roasting and saucing and filling jars, and by Sunday night my hair was standing straight up from hovering over a steaming vat of boiling water all weekend. I ended up with quite a stockpile of food at the end of the weekend, though I didn't quite get to everything I had planned. My roasted tomatillo salsa verde comes in mild and med-hot, my roasted eggplant and hot pepper dip will be good on pita bread, my roasted Hungarian hot pepper paste will add a little heat to winter chiles and stews. So far my tomatoes come in plain seedless unseasoned, smooth roasted Amish Paste with herbs, chunky roasted tomatoes with garlic, onions, and herbs, and chunky roasted tomatoes with roasted bell peppers, garlic, and onions. I have two quarts of pesto sitting in the fridge under oil waiting for a transfer to small but heavy-duty freezer bags. During the whole weekend of kitchen takeover, I had some very confused international students asking what I was making, and more often WHY I was making it. My simple English explanation was "Well, when you grow your own vegetables on a farm, it's hard to go to the grocery store in the winter and pay money for vegetables that are not as good as the ones you grow. So I make things that will keep through the winter so I can eat well even when it's freezing outside." It's as good an explanation as any, I suppose. It's been years since I bought a tomato, in season or out, and I don't intend to start now!

Thinking about: frost blankets, darning socks, borrowed plows

Eating: Mat's amazing stuffed poblanos, lots of tastes of lots of sauces, homemade lasagne, baked mac and cheese, garlic roasted tiny potatoes

Reading:  David James Duncan's The Brothers K, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Ron Macher’s Making Your Small Farm Profitable

Farm Week: September 1, 2014

Well, my favorite month is here, and not just because it brings my birthday! September means crisper days and cooler nights, the return of jeans, sweaters, and even wool socks. September means apples, campfires, and the return of roasting weather! Pretty soon, I’ll be able to turn the oven on without dooming myself to a stifling house! On the farm front, we’ve just finished up seeding the last of the fall greens - direct-seeded spinach and arugula, plus the last round of transplanted lettuce. We’re starting to talk about the fall plan to transition the hoop house from tropical tomato heaven to a stash of slowly growing greens for the middle of the winter. We still have a few weeks worth of tomatoes in the hoop house, but we have to make sure the greens get a good start before the winter cold slows their growth altogether. We also harvested some carrots this week, which was more exciting than it should have been. Our spring carrot crop was engulfed in weeds, so we harvested for only a few weeks before we had to mow and till in the weeds. So right now we’re harvesting the first good crop of carrots this year, with two other seedings following behind. The middle seeding needs to be “saved” from weeds, but the last seeding is currently clean. Carrots are tricky, because they take cannot be transplanted and take quite a long time to germinate. That means that weeds have a head start, because they are usually fast to germinate, quick to grow, and set seeds before you even realize they’re there. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. It always strikes me as odd that some of the crops that are the hardest to grow under weed pressure, like carrots and onions, are usually some of the cheapest to buy conventionally in the supermarket. If you priced your carrots reflecting the amount of work it took to get them all the way to market, people would look at you like you had a carrot for a head. There are, of course, always ways to improve your systems, but that assumes you’ll have the time to devote to weeding right when the weeds demand it. These are the things I think about!

If anyone is wondering how my new adventures in babysitting are going, I’m not really going to dwell on that job too much on the blog - minors, privacy, etc. I’ll just say that things are settling down in the house, and I’m sure we’ll be falling into a rhythm as the school year and the fall progress. I’m constantly reminded of things I’d forgotten about being a teenager, and suddenly the last ten years seems like an eternity. I don’t think about my current self and my 17-year-old self as too dissimilar, but from this vantage point, the gulf seems very wide indeed. This year will be an adventure, one way or another, and in the meantime, you can picture me driving a motley crew of kids around in a minivan, lamenting their long showers, and buying ungodly amounts of bananas, peanut butter, and orange juice. 

Thinking about: cycles, language barriers, timing

Eating: homemade tomato sauces all over everything, roots roots roots

Reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Ron Macher’s Making Your Small Farm Profitable