50’s outside meant 70’s in the high tunnel and plenty to harvest. What a wondrous day for the last day of January. Once I got done with my have-to’s in the AM, I made an executive decision to ignore my need-to’s in the house and spend a few hours working in the high tunnel and the garden. I was richly rewarded. Salad greens, edible flowers, and Jerusalem artichokes will be heading to the restaurant with the chef tomorrow. The weekend’s Jerusalem artichoke chowder was a sell-out hit. It was great to get my hands into the earth and go treasure hunting for them. Mother Nature does a great job of keeping them crisp and fresh for whenever we need them. The “candy carrots” are sweet and crisp. In addition to the harvest, I loved seeing a dandelion in the high tunnel and some beautiful magenta kales.
We are occupied these days with planting fall crops. As soon as a crop is in sufficient decline, we have been ripping it out to plant fall transplants or seeds. So far, I have planted Bridger onions, Lisbon bunching onions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Napoli carrots, arugula, and various beets. There is still a lot to plant. Yesterday, Lily and the chef helped pull out spent tomato plants to make more room for seeding. She was quite proud to be pulling the vines out of the ground and then hauling them back to the brush pile. While she and dad worked on that I picked currant tomatoes and Tinsel guarded the goats while they meandered the farm. I have been sprinkling all the cole crop starts with cayenne to keep my garden rabbit, Junior, away from them. Sometimes the decisions are pretty hard to make. I know right now is prime planting time for high tunnel fall and winter crops, but I find it hard to pull out plants. As August marches on, the decisions are becoming clearer. Tomatoes have slowed greatly, but peppers and cucumbers are going strong. The Zucchino Rampicante in the high tunnel continues to produce heavily, but the one on the main garden is dying back. I wish it were the other way around.
Overall, the high tunnel has been a joy to work in and has worked miracles for the farm. I have already been hinting at where I want the chef to build the next one and he seems to be accepting the inevitability of it.
There is so much happening now that only pictures can convey it all and are all I have time for. I will be picking the first zucchini this week and cucumbers won’t be far behind. I harvested the last of the cabbage and lettuces yesterday. I also saw the first pepper yesterday and picked the first handful of raspberries.
Now that it is May, I think an update on the high tunnel is in order. I could not be happier with it and am so glad we have it. We enjoyed fresh veggies from the tunnel all winter. Nothing grows in January and most of February due to lack of light, but we were still able to pick spinach and carrots. It’s amazing to me that the kale and spinach I seeded last August have fed us from September to now and are still going strong. The only crops that were sown in fall and did not winter over was the lettuce and broccoli. Here are some of the crops that have done particularly well:
Spinach–sown in August and picked through the winter, still going strong
Arugula–I planted a fall bed, ripped it out in March because it got woody and seeded another patch
Swiss Chard–fall crop did great, died back almost completely in the harshest winter weather and then some came back–interestingly enough the plants that came back were the white veined ones
Claytonia–sown 12/31 and harvesting heavily for the past month, still going strong
Strawberries–transferred “the volunteers” from the main garden in September and we started harvesting this week! The bed outside is just starting to flower.
Cilantro–I’m have blogged about this previously. Cilantro overwintered and we were able to harvest in the fall and then again in late March. Now, I am starting to rip it out as int gets overgrown and am planting new plants outdoors.
Carrots–perhaps one of the best crops. I seeded them in August and more in late September. The August planting was perfectly timed. The carrots were sweet and beautiful. I was able to harvest through the winter and the ones we seeded on 12/31 are growing beautifully. The ones seeded on New Year’s Day are getting close to harvest.
Onions–we have been harvesting bunching onions through late fall and still are. The “Bridger” onions from Johnny’s Seeds sown last fall are already knob sized and will give us a nice crop of early storage onions.
Peas—the peas seeded on New Year’s Day are producing now.
Potatoes–I planted some fingerlings in very early March and they are big and beautiful. They look like outdoor plants do in late June. Flowers will be here shortly. Interested to see how quickly we can start harvesting. Between these and the beds of storage potatoes outside, we should have a nice staggered crop. Stay away potato beetles.
And more–we also have had numerous radish harvests, have beautiful cabbages and broccoli coming along, and are picking dandelion greens, raddhicio, and chicory as well.
Lettuces–stunning and almost no bugs. Sure seems to me that one of the greatest advantages to high tunnel growing is the early start you get when the insect pressure is very low or even non-existent.
The only true fail we have had is our plastic has been badly ripped on one side. We did not do enough to secure the plastic that meets the ground on each long side. The crazy March winds tore it badly. I took this kind of hard until I found out that one of my neighbors greenhouses had all the plastic torn off by straight line winds. That was the night that the tornado hit about a 10 minute drive from here. I now count us lucky that is all that happened.
This week we rolled both sides up and took the plastic of the ends. We ran green fencing to keep the dogs out. The summer crops started to go in about a month ago. It is amazing. Here are some photos I took yesterday:
Claytonia, also called Miner’s Lettuce (among other things), has been a great high tunnel crop. Lily and I seeded it on new Year’s Eve and have been harvesting it heavily for months now. It’s a wonderful cold weather crop and it has wonderful succulent leaves. Tiny flowers from in the cup of the leaves and are edible as well. It is best eaten the same day it is picked.
In the photo, Lily is planting tomato transplants into the high tunnel.
My seed potatoes from Seed Savers are sprouting some eyes and it’s time to get planting. I cut them up, leaving about one eye per hunk. I will let the cut surfaces callous over for a few days before getting them in the ground. I’m planting Desiree and Sangre. I already planted Russian Banana Fingerlings in the high tunnel and they are growing strong.
When you think cilantro, you think tomatoes, jalapeños, and heat. Tomato, onion, cilantro, and chile peppers are indeed a match made in heaven, but gardeners know that cilantro does not like the heat. Not only did the cilantro I seeded last fall in the high tunnel winter over, but it is growing like gangbusters now. I assumed I could harvest a bit last fall, that it would winter kill, and I would reseed this spring. I was amazed that it made it through the very harsh winter. When it gets really hot, cilantro will bolt and go to seed. At least with the high tunnel, I can enjoy it fresh now and through early summer.
I had to behead it this week to keep it under control. I found an Emeril Lagasse recipe for cilantro pesto and tried it out today. There are many recipes out there. The recipe called for 2 cups of packed leaves, so I doubled it to use up my bounty. The picture of the cilantro growing above is what is left after 4 cups of leaves were harvested. The cotija cheese and pumpkin seeds were easy to find at one of our local Mexican markets. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are used often in Mexican cooking. It turned out fabulously! We were shocked to discover that it does not taste very cilantro-ey. It is a mild pesto with a unique and marvelous flavor. I put some into tonight’s lasagna and plan on tossing some gluten-free gnocchi in it for dinner tomorrow. I put 2 half-pint jars in the freezer and one in the fridge. Canning, even pressure canning, is not recommended.
An interesting side note, our goats Stella and Horton love cilantro. Who knew?
I am pretty opinionated on this topic, but use what works for you. Here are my thoughts:
- my food storage is about being prepared, but more than that its about producing our own food and/or buying bulk amounts of the best quality food available. I do not take the easiest or cheapest route, but always the best nutritionally
- as you know, I buy organic and local whenever possible. if I can grow or produce it myself, even better
- I don’t think everyone is going to become a farmer like me, but I do feel strongly that local and fresh is better
- food should be purchased when in season and at its nutritional and flavorful best. Asparagus is a great example. We LOVE it, but do not eat it any time other than when it is in season. It tastes so much better!! When it is here, enjoy it. Paco and Lily eat at least a pound a day. Just when we are getting our fill, the season is over. It does not freeze or can very well, so we just eat and eat.
- I do not think commercially canned goods are good food, even though they are so convenient. I use a few canned goods, but strongly believe that commercially canned goods have high levels of BPA in the lining and are not safe
- cream of chicken soup is a great example. Here are the ingredients (from their website): Chicken Stock, Water, Wheat, Flour, Modified Food Starch, Cooked Chicken Meat, Cream (Milk), Contains Less Than 2% Of Chicken Fat, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Soy Protein Concentrate, Dehydrated Cooked Chicken, Yeast Extract, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Flavoring, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, , Potassium Chloride, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Huanylate, Spice Extract, Beta Carotene For Color, Soy protein Isolate, Sodium Phosphates, Chicken Flavor (Contains Chicken Stock, Chicken Powder Chicken Fat), Chicken Flavor, Butter Milk, Cream Powder Cream Milk Soy Lecithin, Enzyme Modified Butter Milk Nonfat Dry Milk, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean And cottonseed Oil, Liplyzed Butter Oil, Oleix Acid Butter Oil, Lactic Acid, Butter Flavor
- That is a heck of a lot of ingredients and some very unhealthy ones. particularly hydrogenated oils
- I don’t think preparedness that consists of processed canned and boxed goods is good at all.
- buying local, responsibly raised foods also keeps money in our community and supports those who are making a living responsibly
- meatloaf—I defrost ground beef and ground pork and then add lots of nutrition packed dehydrated veggies–peppers, corn, onions, tomatoes, and dried greens. Dehydrated kale especially is awesome. It crumbles down into being nearly invisible and it is one of the most nutrition dense foods on the planet. I use home canned tomatoes as the basis for the sauce
- cabbage rolls–similar to meatloaf. ground meat of choice, rice, dehydrated veggies, home canned tomatoes
- soups and stews–easy and perfect winter fare. we raise our own pastured chicken, lots of veggies (dehydrated perfect here as well)
- an easy fast dinner—canned peaches, grass-fed pork chops, frozen corn, green salad (from the high tunnel)
- we love Mexican food and my equivalent to hamburger helper is enchiladas. I use home canned tomatoes as a basis for sauce and our own chicken (I keep shredded chicken meat–our own-in the freezer)
- crustless quiche–another quick and easy meal, pastured eggs are an easy and healthy protein and we have no shortage of them
- pot roast—grassfed beef, potatoes (stored), carrots (high tunnel), tomatoes (canned)
- *****I take stock of what I have and look for recipes to best prepare it. When you buy a side of beef, or a whole hog, or whole lamb, you will end up with some cuts you may not be used too. This winter we have braised short ribs and oxtail stew for this reason and they were both great.
- The farmer’s market and/or your backyard is better than any grocery store
- Eat what is in season. feast on locally and organically grown produce or your own.
- summer is so busy with farming and preserving that I adore that sliced tomatoes are a side dish and berries are dessert. it is very easy.
- but warm weather is when you have to be a “squirrel” and stock for the winter.
- bulk dry goods are just as important in summer so you have a stock of easy to grab ingredients.
- home canned goods including pickles, beets, tomato sauces, salsas, applesauce, fruits, jams, grape juice, apple juice, and our own maple syrup, apple cider molasses) (I do not have a pressure canner. I am adding that to my arsenal for this year)
- lots of bulk-bought 100% grass fed meats. we get a half or whole hog and a side of beef. We have our own chicken and this year I am going to buy a lamb.
- dehydrated veggies (grown by me or bought local organic produce)
- bulk dry goods (this is where The People’s Elbow (wholesale buying club) comes in very handy)—rice, quinoa, beans, olive oil, canola oil, agave nectar, local honey, oats, nuts, etc.
- some boxed goods and dairy products (TPE again)–butter (I buy by the case when the good pastured butter is available and then have for the year), crackers, cereals, rice milk, tortillas, breads) I bake a lot too
It may have snowed last night, but in the high tunnel it is spring. The photo above is the “before” picture. Thanks to being ear infection free and Lily being back in school after strep throat, I got a very needed work day. For a glorious 2 hours I weeded, harvested, and planted in the high tunnel beds. It is amazing to me everything that made it through the extreme cold of this winter. Many of the seeds Lily and I planted on New Year’s Eve are coming up now. The very late fall sowings of arugula are now taking off.
Below is a video tour of each bed mad after the big cleanup and planting is done. The focus isn’t always great, but it gets the job done.
The glaciers are almost gone here at Small Wonder Farm. The ground below is still pretty frozen, so the worst of the muddy season is still around the bend. I picked a huge bowl of spinach today and planted fingerling potatoes and indoor germinated sugar pea plants in the high tunnel.
Now that the main garden has had the glacier recede, I took a walk back there.Despite absolutely knowing that there is no way asparagus can be coming up yet, I had to check. Anticipation of what is to come might be one of the biggest gifts to a gardener. I will console myself with memories of last year’s crop.
All these pictures are from yesterday. The first big thaw is here. After months of frozen glacier, the melt is here. Broccoli and carrot seeds are the first to germinate of all the items Lily and I sowed on New Year’s Eve in the high tunnel. There is new growth in the high tunnel on spinach, parsley, cilantro, etc.
Thaw means mud season too. Not my favorite, but unavoidable. The chickens love their big soupy muddy yard as you can see above. Us, not so much.
Temps went over 60 today and Lily and I took advantage of the strange weather to uncover all the high tunnel beds, tear out spent crops (careful to save green plants for the chickens), seed new crops, and water. What a wonderful way to spend the last day of the year. Lillian put her new reading and writing skills to good use making markers for the new crops. We planted claytonia, Italian dandelion, radishes, carrots, kale, mache, bunching onions, onions, and shallots. We also harvested carrots by the handful, radishes, spinach, kale, and beets. The high tunnel was a glorious 72 degrees and it was wonderful to work together and get dirty. We tossed some of our carrots into the pot of corned beef and cabbage and knew it was the end of and start of a good year.
Yes, we had many presents, a very excited little girl, and all the rest; but we also had a breathtakingly beautiful white Christmas with 6 or so inches of fluffy snow on top of what we already had. The chicken portraits were inspired by my new zoom lens. We also had a beautiful platter of FRESH veggies picked today! I took a picture of my harvest basket nestled in the snow. Absolutely amazing. The word sustenance has been in my head all day. The sustenance of home-grown food even in the coldest winter and the sustenance of our souls and our family on this Christmas day. I thought of all the eggs those ladies have “donated” to the sustenance of our bodies and the hours of enjoyment they and the goats provide us. I gave the goats and chickens my best rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Insane?, perhaps, but I think they enjoyed it.
Now, Paco is on his way out the door with a big basket of carrot, radish, and beet trimmings for the chickens and goats. Sustenance.
Chickens have been shut into the barn. If the days get in the 20’s we go ahead and let them circulate in the “common area” of the barn, but keep them closed up inside at night. We use two stalls and attempt to get one rooster and approximately half the hens in each stall. Stalls have been equipped with hanging feeders, metal water founts sitting on warmers so the water won’t freeze, and heat lamps–2 per stall. They also have more roosting areas thanks to Paco and fresh straw.
The goats have been brought into the barn as well. The goats are quite hardy and have their nice fluffy winter coats on. We brought them into barn for several reasons. First, most of their natural browse is gone. Multiple hard freezes and snow cover have left them without green stuff to munch. Second, we could not get the outlet in the lean-to to work and therefore had no way to keep their water from freezing over. Third, we like to keep them in the barn through the worst of winter for their health and comfort but also because it makes it easier for us to do chores if the goats and chickens are together. So, the goats have their own stall with hayrack and their water has a float in it to keep it from icing over. The goats, at least for now, have the run of the common areas as well as their stall. We are giving some hay but also supplementing with alfalfa cubes as well as their usual “granola.”
The goats and chickens keep good company, but we do make it impossible for the goats to enter the chicken stalls. The chickens can join them in the common area, but we have to keep the goats away from the chickens’ feeders. The goats would happily eat every shred of grain we give the chickens.
The dogs have the entire milking room (was a tack room) of the barn to themselves. We got their plug-in water bowl set-up for them, put in a heat lamp, and are keeping the barn door closed. They have a doggie door entrance.
The high tunnel is a different matter altogether. Since this is year one, I consulted an experienced friend when we were facing the first night of arctic temps. I had already pulled lightweight row cover over the beds a few weeks prior. I added to this by pulling heavy weight row cover over the tops of the more susceptible crops. I think we did pretty well. Looks like most of the lettuces are gone as well as the broccoli, but kale, swiss chard, carrots, onions, beets, parsley, cilantro, spinach, and mache are all struggling through. We are supposed to be warming up starting today (highs in the 30’s and lows in the 20’s) and them plunge back down on Sunday. I plan to let things in there defrost thoroughly and harvest as heavily as I can. Because of the very short days, there is very little growth. What is there is about all there will be until late February/early March. I have been told that the even if lettuces and other greens die back, they will resume growth in a few months. It sure has been amazing to have fresh salads and greens in our stews right through the freeze and snow. I dread the days (which are right around the corner), when I will be forced to supplement our meals by buying fresh veggies.
Yesterday, I pulled the last of the broccoli plants out and tossed them into the common area of the barn. The goats, as well as the chickens, feasted happily. Such a lovely reminder of the usefulness of just about everything on the farm. It brings me joy to experience the cycle of life so intimately. In those moments, I know that I am living an honest, balanced life.
Thanks to the weather’s flirtation with freezing this week, the plastic was put on the ends of the high tunnel and we rolled the sides down. Yesterday’s low was 37 and high 59. At 2 PM , the high tunnel was a warm 87–with the screen door open on either end.
I was able to remove the floating row covers from everything yesterday and gather the first harvest. Spicy arugula, tender leaf lettuce, and baby beet greens. I kep enough for a wonderful dinner salad and delivered a pound of arugula to be mixed into salad greens at the restaurant.
When I got to the restaurant, I gave hubby/chef a big hug and kiss. I cannot imagine a better present than the ability to bask and work in the eternal spring of my high tunnel. I will be able to provide fresh produce for our family and the restaurant. More importantly, we will be able to enjoy this farm in a whole new way all winter long.
Here is what is planted:
Beets: Chiogga, Ace, Detroit
Lettuces: Many, many
Spinach: Bloomsdale, Olympia
Swiss Chard: Neon lights
Lacinto Blue Kale
Radishes: French Breakfast, Cherrybelle, and Black
Carrots: Napoli, Little Finger, Dragon, Paris Market, Purple Haze
Onions: Evergreeen Bunching, Crimson Bunching, Italian Flat, Bridger
Peas: Sugar Ann
Worth a try: Green Apple Cucumber, Genovese Zucchini
Three years ago, I took the series of classes offered by Purdue Extension called “Master Gardener” training. I learned a lot, wished I had learned more on certain subjects, and found out I knew a good bit to start with. It is a wonderful program. I am very thankful for the opportunity. BUT, people hear the term “Master Gardener,” and they take it literally and think I am a one stop source for everything growing. I am no Master at this gardening game folks. 75 % of what I have learned has been gleaned from jumping in head first. I have made huge mistakes and still do. But in three years of gardening (dare we call it farming?– I think so), I have learned a tremendous amount. The steep uphill learning curve is part of the attraction. Mother Nature will always have more to teach me. Each year brings its own challenges, but it also gets easier.
My response to the increasing ease is to add more onto my to-do list. I love the new challenges. The first year I had the big garden (3600 square feet), I knew I was in love and in trouble. That first garden was so poorly planned, run over by crops too closely planted, and drowning in weeds. I had no idea that I would produce as much as I did and quickly realized that growing it was only half the battle—I had to use it, preserve it, or send it to our restaurant. That first year, when a hard frost finally came, I was jumping for joy. That winter was like a delicious long weekend–one that was sorely needed. Each year since, I have gotten better on all these fronts, but new challenges arise all the time–whether they are in the form of a tomato blight epidemic, tropical temps, or an army of potato beetles. The challenges have to be seen as part of the process.
Four years ago, I would have laughed to think I would be doing all this. I never could have believed I would farm for our family and the restaurant. Now we are finishing a high tunnel so that I can grow (nearly) year round. I wish I could have all those years back I spent being bored.
Along the way, I have gotten to know many farmers I admire and consider personal friends. Like me, they are all learning as they go. Most have FAR more experience than I and have mentored me. What we all have, I believe, is the fever that drives us to grow, no matter what. It is a spiritual pursuit for many, including me. I get a lot more than I take. The produce is a fringe benefit. The process is the real reward. In no way, do I want to gloss over the fact that farmers need that produce to keep households afloat, but rather, if money was the main goal, farming would not be the best means to that end.
I digress. My point is, I am no Master Gardener. I prefer to think of myself as an Enthusiastic Gardener. I encourage anyone interested to jump in. I don’t have any special talent–just enthusiasm.
Here, you can see phase 2 well on its way. The metal posts for the door frames on either end are up. The hipboards are on–the double wood furring strips along the long sides. The hip boards will allow us to roll the plastic up to that point during warm weather–to avoid cooking our crops. Phase 2 will be done when the doors are on (generic storm doors) and the ends are framed. After that, we will just have to attach plastic and the channel that locks it onto the frame. Today, another run to Home Depot for door framing lumber and enough lumber to make 4 raised beds (for starters) in the high tunnel. We will build 4 beds–each 3′ x 12′ and 6″ deep. Yahoo!! More dirt for me to play in.
Here we are at Home Depot purchasing chain link fence top rail for our latest farm venture–a high tunnel. For those of you who don’t know a high tunnel is a greenhouse-like structure made out of “hoops” (also known as a hoop house) and covered with transparent greenhouse plastic. Our tunnel will allow us to extend our garden harvest into late fall and starting in early spring. Crops such as hardy greens can be grown until early January and hot weather crops can be started earlier to get a jump on the season. This is not quite what we are building, but has some great pictures to give you an idea of what we are going to be doing: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/cornucop/msg0508291217612.html
We have looked at several local ones (thank you Wade family and the gals at Longhouse Farm!) and have gotten comfortable with the how-to of it. Lucky for me, I have a husband that is a natural builder and very precise. I would need a minor miracle to be able to build this myself. he can build. I can grow. We are a good team. Looks like we are shooting for a structure 20 feet wide by 36 long. This is what we bought (about $600, so far):
32 pieces of 10 foot 1 3/8 top rail
14 pieces of 6 foot 1 5/8 fence posts
40 or so 2″ x 1/4″ bolts and nuts
15 or so 2.5″ x 1/4″ bolts and nuts
Nancy and Barb from Longhouse Farm are loaning us their hoop bender and their post driver. http://www.longhousefarm.com/ Thanks!
The fence posts will be sunk into the ground at 6′ intervals–7 on each side. Then the top rails (3 for each hoop) will be bent and inserted into each corresponding pair of fence posts. After all the “ribs” are done, purlins will be added. The purlin is the backbone of the structure. we will run three the length of the structure–one down the middle and one on each side. Where the purlin meets the hoop we need a strong, secure connection to hold the hoops and purlins in place during all kinds of weather. We have already ordered and received “cross connectors” from Farmtek for just this purpose. They are designed to hold the intersection of the two 1 3/8 rails together. Check them out: http://www.farmtek.com/farm/supplies/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10052&storeId=10001&langId=-1&division=FarmTek&productId=267066
This will complete phase one. Let’s see how long it takes………..