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

Farm Week: August 25, 2014

This week on the farm found me recovering from last week’s farm feast, moving into a new house, preparing for a new job, and driving to and from the Twin Cities to celebrate the marriage of a good friend from college. It was great to see some great friends I haven’t seen in a long time (plus some I’d seen quite recently), and the wedding was the classiest wedding I’ve ever been to. From the dress to the drinks to the venue to the swing band, every detail was simple and perfectly reflective of the happy couple. I didn’t get to spend too much time poking around Minneapolis, nor did I have the energy to make it to the State Fair, but what I did get a chance to see while riding a rented bike around on Sunday morning made me want to come back to keep exploring. As for the international students, more on that next week, and in the meantime, I’m about to send them off on their first day of school!

Thinking about: first impressions, second first impressions, culture shock

Eating: leftover roast pork, delicious wedding food

Reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things

Farm Week: August 18, 2014 & Farm Feast

This week’s post is another tale of survival, which I expect must be getting old by now. We had our Farm Feast this weekend, which meant that added to our weekly mix of markets, harvest, weeding, and general chaos was a special mix of anxiety, preparation, and finally, adrenaline. We started cooking on Thursday, chopping and dicing and slicing. All day Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent preparing for the event, and when people actually started to arrive, I was almost too tired to enjoy the night as much as I should have. All of the hard stuff was over, and all I had to do was smile and make sure everything was running smoothly. Mostly, it did just that. Dinner started a little later than planned because everyone seemed to be having a good time on the hayrides and in conversation over drinks and appetizers, so by the time the last few tables were finishing up it was getting quite dark. But we had enough food and enough seats for everybody, nobody was stung by our bees, the horses cooperated, the children (mostly) cooperated, the weather cooperated, and everyone seemed to have a great time and really enjoy the food. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I think people would have paid double for the experience. Maybe with a similar amount of work, we could make it an actual fundraiser in the future, if that’s something Mat and Danielle are considering.

 

So with the successful completion of the farm feast, I only have one week left in the crazy whirlwind month that has been August. Judging by my Facebook feed, this seems to be a very popular time to move. I helped two friends with some very heavy hobbies move up some stairs today, and I’m also moving this Tuesday, though my continued vagabond existence means that I don’t have more than a carload of stuff to cart over. My international charges arrive on Saturday, which just happens to also be the day that a very good friend and former roommate is getting married in the Twin Cities, so I won’t be around for their first day in the States. But in the meantime, I have to get myself moved, the house prepared, the kitchen stocked, meet the teachers, see off a friend, and get myself to and from Minneapolis. I still have all of my farm duties this week, but after a few crazy weeks I’ve earned a bit of leeway, and I should be able to work around it. Even though I’ll be starting a new job and be pulling double duty, I think September might be a little easier than August has been. (Also, maybe the ragweed with stop blooming at some point.)

Thinking about: lifting with the legs, time management, accumulation

Eating: see farm feast menu picture

Reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Farm Week: August 11, 2014

Well, I survived my five days in charge of the farm. The animals were fed, watered, moved, and milked as necessary, the veg was weeded, watered, harvested, delivered, and sold, and I came out the other end relatively unscathed, if with a bit of a summer cold. I can’t blame the farm for that, but I have two small suspects in the hunt for patient zero. It was actually quite nice to be on the farm all day - I’m up early no matter how hard I try to sleep past 6, and I’m usually asleep by 10, but that leaves a quite a bit of time outside my usual “business hours.” I went out early to start the morning chores, attempting to finish them by the time the vegetable helpers arrived at 8:30 or 9. Most days, I was mostly successful. It was also nice to be able to work in the evenings, when the sun wasn’t so strong. I picked tomatoes in the greenhouse, weeded the celeriac and the carrots, added another super to the beehives, all under a much gentler sun. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I kept remembering that while I could keep the farm running, it was on a very basic level, pared down, well-prepared, and well-assisted. I didn’t have to keep track of two young boys or do any caretaking work for the landlord. As smoothly as it went, it actually deepened my respect for how hard and how long Mat and Danielle work on a daily basis. I certainly hope they actually relaxed on their trip, though I doubt they are capable of complete relaxation.

In other news, August continues racing by at a record-breaking clip. I can’t really tell whether we’re still in the throes of summer or whether fall has come early. Our field tomatoes are stalwartly green, and we’re hoping that the weather cooperates enough to give us a pretty good yield. After last year’s near crop failure, I’m looking forward to stocking up on tomato sauces for the winter. We have a few varieties of paste tomato out in the field, and I’m looking forward to canning as much as possible when they finally start ripening (knock on wood). Though I have no basis for this hunch, I have a feeling we’re in for a bit of an Indian Summer. It’s been a bit of an odd year, weather-wise, and I’m just hoping it cooperates long enough for at least a good portion of the ton of green fruit to turn red (and yellow and orange and stripedy). I’m trying not to think about how busy the next two weeks are going to be, and spent a good portion of the morning (dis)engaged in some classic nothing-doing while I have the chance. The next two weeks bring a big event on the farm, a parental visit, a going away party, helping friends move, moving myself, starting a second job, and a trip to the twin cities for a wedding. Oh yeah, and I’m really hoping for some ripening tomatoes, as if I needed something else to fill my time!

Thinking about: coordination, cooperation, condensation

Eating: broccoli-based stir-fries, tomatoes and basil, garlicky eggs, locally (in)famous spaghetti and meatball pizza

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story, Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States

Farm Week: August 4, 2014

August just seems to be speeding by, and this week was also a blur of activity and decisions. We had the usual amount of harvest, CSA delivery, and farmers market activity. Adding to the flurry were the preparations for the Boersons to leave for their annual family camping trip up to Superior, leaving me in charge of the farm for a couple days. So this weekend and the beginning of next week finds me feeding, watering, harvesting, and delegating. We'll be harvesting for and delivering our CSA boxes as usual, so I'll have our usual stream of weekly helpers, plus a few extra hands on deck to help with the steady stream of chores. So far, so good (knock on wood for me, would you?).

Also lots of life decisions happening this week. One of my good friends here just got a really awesome job that will take her to Seattle before the end of the month. It's an awesome opportunity, and I think she'll love living in Seattle, but I'll certainly miss having her around here. At the same time, I applied for and then quickly accepted a job that will keep me here for another year. The local high school hosts about half a dozen international students from all over the world who come for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. They're usually coming as a stepping stone to attending college in the States, so they're a very responsible, driven bunch. Anyways, the school is renting a house in downtown Green Lake for the school year, and they needed an RA/house mother. Luckily for them, there happens to be a well-traveled, multi-lingual, over-educated itinerant living just down the street. So I'll also be moving by the end of the month, to a cute little house in town. Though they're working with me to make sure I'll be able to fulfill my obligations at the farm through September, after that I'll be free to come to the farm during the school day, when I don't have any obligations to the program. Next summer, school will end just when the market and CSA season starts to ramp up, and I'll work another season here at the farm. Over the school year, I'll have one weekend off every month, and in the summer I'm going to make it a priority to go out to the Future Farm at least once a month. I'm planning on moving out there full time next fall, so right now I'm about 14 months from Startup. Lots of things just fell into place this month, and I'm excited to see what the next year will bring. Watch this space!

Thinking about: transitions, timelines, tinkerers

Eating: salads, tomatoes, broccoli, variations on zucchini and eggs, another pulled pork crop mob lunch, celebratory crispy pork belly and fondue

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story