Friday, August 28, 2009

Feels Like Fall

When the rain began yesterday, the air felt sultry, but by this morning, that pleasant temperate rain forest feel changed to a cool and foggy hint that Autumn is closer than I'd like. This evening, the wind has picked up and hails from the NNW. It will be a very cold start to the farmers market tomorrow; I think I'll bring my mittens!

I was out in the field today -- in the rain -- gathering more dill and Bulls Blood Beets for the market tomorrow, and I managed to remember to bring the camera and take some pictures. I never did conquer the weeds, but better to have weeds covering the ground than to let the ground be bare.

Here is a picture of the South end of the field as you see it when turning onto the ramp from the road. You can see part of the new chicken skid that will be put to good use next year. I call the section near the high tunnel the Hops Section. Eventually this section will have just hops, flowers and herbs:

The dill is starting to flower; I hope it will give me seed. The Bulls Blood Beets look pretty next to it.

The sunflowers are just now developing heads. I don't think there will enough time left in the season for them to bloom.

The Willamette and Cascade hops will soon be ready to harvest. I like letting the hops grow up on a simple pole; architectural plants are cool.

Take the Golden Amaranth, for instance. What a beautiful plant! It is striking to look at. It's colorful. It is drought tolerant, and it doesn't seem to be bothered by any bugs. (Maybe the bugs up here don't know what it is yet. ;) You can eat both the leaves and the seeds. As a matter of fact, I canned some of the leaves to see how they would turn out, and we had them with our supper tonight (latkes with applesauce and sour cream, and locally produced bacon). The amaranth leaves did not shrink as much as beet greens or spinach do, and they were very pleasant tasting. Similar to spinach but they definitely have their own flavor. I could taste a hint of oxalic acid, but it was not too strong. I re-heated the greens in water, then drained them and flavored them with a little bacon grease and Cajun seasoning -- they were excellent. They were actually very nice as a side with the potato pancakes and bacon. A nice supper on such a rainy day. I also read that some people like to eat the leaves raw shredded in salads. I tried a couple of leaves while out in the field, and I much prefer them cooked -- too chewy for my taste.

I worked a while in the high tunnel gathering Rattlesnake pole beans. I left one whole tower to go to seed for next year.

I was surprised to find I had pickling cucumbers! (National and Boston Pickling) So I picked the few that were there, and gladly they were small because everybody at the market had big cukes last week and the customers were looking for small ones. Every canner knows you need a good pickling cuke to make good pickles, and the smaller cukes are easier to work with and also good for making gherkins. I'm sure I will sell all of what I have -- if we're not rained out. It is supposed to be cold, rainy and windy tomorrow with a high temp of 49F.

The rest of the garden is so overgrown I can hardly bear to look at it. When the weather dries out a bit, I'll finish cutting the hay and try to get the wheat cut. I'm going to stack it in shocks on top of a pallet near the chicken coop and cover it all with a tarp. I'll feed the shocks to the hens this winter.

Well, I'll have to get up early tomorrow for market, so I'll catch you later!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Farmers Market

It was really great to finally be able to get to the market yesterday and see everybody! I met a new vendor, Phil, from Circle J Farm, and got to say hi to all the regulars.

We have a new sign!

I think it's great how the town of Phillips supports the farmers market.

There was a steady run of customers. The day was chilly, but at least it didn't rain. It felt really good to see many of my old customers. I didn't have all that much to sell, but I have to laugh because you always wind up selling the one thing you thought you'd bring home -- and for me, it was the dill. I thought everybody would have dill, but apparently, the herb didn't grow for many of the vendors. While I had no parsley grow for me this year, Larry from Larry's Greenhouse, says he has a full row of parsley and no dill. I thought I'd sell out of my Bull's Blood Beet greens, but wouldn't you know it, no one wanted the greens. They all wanted the beets. I did sell some of the Golden Amaranth leaves. (This is my first year growing Golden Amaranth, and so far, it is a great plant in the garden!) And, of course, what didn't sell I brought home and canned for us. I left out a jar of the amaranth leaves to eat as we haven't tried them yet. I like to be able to tell my customers first-hand what the food tastes like and how to prepare it. Some of my customers can food so I'll be able to tell them how the amaranth worked out.

Let me introduce some of our vendors:

The Czerniaks (I hope I spelled that right!) from Taylor County. Mary Lou and her sister (I'm sorry, but I can't remember her name) always have a wide selection of produce to choose from. I bought my Red Warty Thing squash from them last year and as none of my pumpkins or squashes grew this year, I'm hoping they'll have some to sell later this Fall. They come from as far South of Phillips as I come from the North.

Here are Alan and Diane Barkstrom (Diane is our market manager). This grand couple is the driving force behind our market. They sell great honey and maple syrup.

Meet Larry from Larry's Greenhouse:

Here is John (he's shy) and his friend (I'm sorry -- forgetting names again):

It was John who found a scale certifier in Medford for us, so our market can boast that it now has three certified scales! He even took our scales down to Medford and back for us. We're not a fancy market, but we are definitely community minded and considerate of each other. We have great hopes for the market. We welcome new agricultural vendors. Our market rules are clear and simple.

I just realized that I missed getting a picture of Phil from Circle J Farm, so I must apologize to him, and I'll try to get a picture of him for the blog next week.

I have to finish building my farm sign and get some eggs sold -- I'm out of room in the little egg refrigerator and Tom won't appreciate taking up space in the kitchen frig. Better make some lemon blueberry pound cake! At least my new freezer is coming tomorrow afternoon so I'll be able to start butchering the rest of the roosters. I can't wait to stop having to listen to complaints about the chickens.

I have customer requests for shallots and sage for next week! I'll go around and check what herbs I can bring. I know I have a little coriander, sweet basil and summer savory. There is some catnip and spearmint, but I'm not sure what shape the spearmint is in. I have several perennial winter savory plants, but they are small and I think I'll leave them alone for this year. Out in the field I have calendula, borage, tansy, sweet and bulb fennel, and Sweet Annie. And the hops should be ready any time now. The temperatures got down to 37F last night so let's hope I'm not badly surprised when I get out to the field.

Guess I'll close this entry with a pic of Yours Truly in action ;D:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Farmers Market Tomorrow

Just a note to let you know I'll finally be at the farmers market in Phillips tomorrow morning. Hurray! I'll have:

Golden Amaranth Greens -- $5.00/bunch
Bulls Blood Beets -- $3.00/bunch
Collards -- $3.00/bunch
Dill -- $2.00/bunch
Red Cloud and Katahdin potatoes -- $1.00/lb
Mixed heirloom garlics -- $.25/ea.
small yellow onions -- $.10/ea.
Green Peppers -- $1.00/lb

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Cut Up a Chicken

Last week we ate one of the butchered chickens for dinner. As Tom prefers his cooking to mine, he does most of the cooking. That's not to say I can't cook (plenty of people like my cooking), it's just that we both like to cook, have different styles of cooking, and fight over the kitchen. So, if he wants to do the cooking, let him. Anyway, he told me he didn't like the whole chickens because he didn't know how to cut them up. Which got me to wondering if cut up chickens would sell better than whole chickens. I mean, think about it: when you go to the grocery store, what kind of chicken do you prefer to buy? With kids in the house, a chicken that is already cut up, make meal preparation go faster. How often do you buy a whole chicken and roast it? And what the heck is the proper way to cut up a chicken? Hmmm. Look what I found:

I think when I go to finish butchering the roosters I'll cut up a few and see how much more time it adds to my work. To tell you the truth, I would rather buy a cut up chicken than a whole one!

Monday, August 17, 2009

In the Field

It's a busy time now here on the farm, especially now that we've noticed the leaves on the trees are starting to change color and fall. Once you notice the leaves falling you get a sense of urgency about finishing tasks before the cold weather comes.

Last night I picked a good quart of raspberries after supper. I'd like to pick some more berries before they disappear from around the big marsh. Maybe there will be blackberries down by the creek.

The hens are laying about 18 eggs a day now, and I collect them three times a day so they are as clean as possible. I ordered a freezer the other day from Sears so I will be able to start butchering the rest of those singing roosters soon.

Went out to the field this morning and started digging up the potatoes, and after lunch, Tom and Ed came out to help me. What potatoes we did get look good, but there were only two potatoes each from most of the plants. It's my fault though: I only hilled and weeded them once, gave them no fertilizer, and the only water they got was when it rained -- which wasn't much, so I have only myself to blame. I wanted to have a bushel to give my Dad for the winter, so Tom said he will give Dad a bushel from his garden. Dad likes those Kennebecs anyway. It is supposed to be nice again tomorrow so I told Tom we'll dig his potatoes. We'll see how many potatoes he gets and I'll decide how many spuds I can sell. It will be nice to finally have enough produce to take to the farmers market.

While I was out picking berries last evening, I took some pictures of a couple of plants I'm trying to identify. If you know what any of these plants are, please send me a comment.

Do you know if the berries from this plant are edible? It likes growing in the shade near my compost area.

This plant likes growing in the shade, too. The waxy green berries eventually turn black, and the plant grows about 2-3' tall. I usually find it near Basswood trees.

This plant develops white berries and the stems turn red. It also likes growing in the shade. All are definitely woodland plants.

I think I mentioned that I'm really getting interested in mushrooms after seeing the TED video of Paul Stamets talking about 6 ways to change the world with fungi. Well, I've found some mushrooms in the woods. I'm not sure, but I think the one is an oyster mushroom; the little ones I took off a downed tree I think are called Turkey Tails; and the last I think is called a Slippery Jim; it has small pores instead of gills beneath the cap. I cut the stems off and buried them in my compost pile. Then I put the caps on a sheet of paper to see if I can get spore prints from them.

Mushrooms seem to disappear quickly around here; I think the critters get them. There were a bunch of little brown mushrooms growing in the gravel of the driveway that I found the other day, and when I went back the next day with the camera to get a picture of them so I could try to identify them, they were all gone. Every last one of them. It is such an interesting subject. I am particularly interested in Mr. Stamet's use of mushrooms to build soil quickly. If I could use fungi to increase my soil fertility and combine the use of fungi with earthworms while continuing my green manure practice, I think my soil will improve quickly. While using green manures has made an improvement, being able to improve the soil more rapidly is even better. Learning how to increase mushroom spawn is low cost, and so is growing earthworms, so what with the economy getting ready to take another dive and the prices of agricultural inputs only going up, learning to harvest and work with Nature's gifts to improve my bottom line makes good sense and is very economically appealing -- not to mention how learning these skills help you be more self-sufficient.

I also watched David Blume's DVD, "Alcohol Can Be A Gas", last night and was intrigued by his statement that Dried Distiller's Grains With Solubles (DDGS) can be used very effectively as an organic fertilizer. (Reading the book and seeing the DVD is STRONGLY recommended!) I also read a recent study about using DDGS as a grain substitute in animal feed, especially poultry feed, because of its high protein value. I haven't looked into how much DDGS costs yet, but as it is a distillate by-product of ethanol production, I don't think it would be very expensive. While I would hesitate to use it in animal feed because there is no uniform commercial nutritional value standard yet available for DDGS (In other words, the DDGS obtained from one mill will probably differ in nutritional value from DDGS obtained from another mill -- e.g., the protein value will hover in the vicinity of +-27% and amino acid levels will vary so using it in formulating poultry feed would be tricky), I would be very interested in using it as an organic fertilizer along with fungi and earthworms. And speaking of earthworms, I checked my worm bin in the basement and saw worms moving around so I haven't killed them off yet. There was plenty of food still in the bin; I wonder if you can overfeed worms. . . .

Well, I am just a jabber font tonight, aren't I? Say, if you like to read my blog, why not make me look like I know what I'm talking about and become a follower?

Have a good evening, Everybody!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I went to town yesterday hoping to see my nephew before he went off to Cornell University, but unfortunately I missed him. I know that he safely reached my sister's house in Chicago where he'll stay the night before picking up I-90, so all is well so far.

I then went to our local "dime" stores -- Family Dollar and Northern Merchandise -- and picked up some detergent and bleach, and a folding file for the Special Olympics information. I spent last night and most of today entering due dates into my calendar, creating a database, and drafting merge letter templates for renewal notices and reminders. Almost felt like I was back working as a secretary! (Thank you, NOT.) I also picked up a little 3-shelf book case and put that together this morning; I put it in the kitchen next to the buffet and put all my cook books in it. It's nice to have all the cook books in one place.

My sister, Mary, stopped by and visited for a bit this morning. It was nice to see her. I thought she might be feeling kind of down because of Johnny leaving for college, but she said she was actually feeling relieved. I had to laugh. Mary is a consummate worry wort, but once the stressor is past, she's just fine and dandy. She gave me the name of an insurance agency up in Ashland to call for my liability insurance. I was ecstatic!

The goofy hens started laying eggs in an empty box in the garage. I don't know when they started that, but I found 4 eggs in the box this morning that I threw out because I didn't know how long they had been in the box. I went and checked the nest boxes in the coop, but they are all ok so I don't know what the problem is -- if there is a problem; it may just be one weird hen. I'll have to keep an eye out for wayward eggs underfoot.

Today just flew by and I am looking forward to the rain we are supposed to get tonight and tomorrow. We badly need it. Have a good weekend everybody!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Day in August

It was another one of those days where I felt it was just too hot to work outside. I am being more mindful of my health and it makes no sense to push myself to work unduly. Wearing myself down or pulling muscles because I've pushed myself too hard is just plain stupid. Working for myself lets me set my own hours, and I figure if I don't get some task done today, I'll finish it another time. Learning to work with the seasons is definitely therapuetic. I have decided to enjoy my life and "smell the flowers" instead of being worried about issues that tend to resolve themselves without any input from me. I think in these stressful times with the economy being what it is, that people need to just stop, take a deep breath, and look around them. Doing only that can many times break a person out of the rut they may not realize they are in, and waking up outside of the "box" of your life, can clarify what is "real" and "important".

That being said, I scrubbed the house down again today: washed the floors, dusted, vacuummed the basement and stairs. Tomorrow I'll do the laundry. I did get the chicken coop overhauled for winter. Boy, what a difference! The hens really like it. (I had 18 eggs today, hoo-ray!) I want to get a couple more bales of wood shavings to make the bedding at least 6" deep before the cold weather sets in. I re-hung the doors to make them easier to open, too.

Talked to Tom today about buying another freezer just for the butchered chickens and about getting insurance. I think I'll give Rural Insurance a call tomorrow and see what they can do for me. Allstate said they wouldn't give me liability insurance for either on-farm sales or sales at the farmers market. I belong to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau who advertises Rural Insurance, so hopefully they will be able to help me.

I need to go to town tomorrow and, among other things, buy a folder for the Special Olympics files I have. I want to get the athlete info into my online calendar so the due dates for all the athletes' medical information which is renewed every so many years will not be missed. I need to get a supply of medical forms to be able to give to new athletes, too, so getting that organized before school starts up will keep things running smoothly. Organization prevents a host of problems!

The Butternut Fair is this weekend and I've been trying to decide if I'll enter anything this year. I don't have any crafts finished -- crafting big time will definitely be on this winter's agenda -- so I think I'll enter some canned goods. I made some apricot jam that looks gorgeous in the jar, and I just finished canning some collard/turnip greens from Tom's garden. I think I'll collect a dozen eggs and enter them, too. It isn't much, but Lara loves it when we enter things in the fair. Maybe I'll make my lemon blueberry pound cake; that's got to be a winner. It's too bad I don't have my latest table cloth and knitted pioneer "boy" dolls finished -- now those dolls are going to be something! Fair time is always fun.

I have some Noble Spinach and common garden sorrel seed drying on plates in the kitchen. Lots of seed! The Paris cos lettuce is starting to send up seed stalks now, too. I am going to let half the dill in the field go to seed. I hope to bring some of the Danvers Half Long carrots and Bulls Blood Beets through the winter for making seed next year. I may not have much produce, but getting a seed harvest evens things out a bit. Speaking of seed, I cleaned the onions, potato onions, garlics, and shallots yesterday and put them in baskets. I think I will keep the potato onions and shallots for re-planting in October when I plant the garlics so that I will have a nice amount to sell and keep for seed next year.

Well, I've prattled on long enough for today. Take care, All!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Greatness of the Small

Today America lost a great soul -- Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, died. As a mom of special needs children and having participated in Special Olympics with first my brother, Frank, when Special Olympics first started, and now, my own children, I am keenly aware of the great blessings bestowed on all involved with Special Olympics. I have seen first-hand the priceless smiles of athletes lighting up their faces from pride in their Special Olympics' accomplishments -- "See what I CAN do!" I've seen terrific high school kids volunteering to "keep an eye on" athletes at regional Special Olympics meets loving every minute of their experience, oftentimes in very inclement weather. And now, as a Special Olympics volunteer and part of a new Special Olympics Chapter, I just cannot tell you how my own soul rejoices knowing I am part of an organization that openly declares Eunice Shriver's belief that every life has value. Great things come from the preponderance of the small. Thank you, Eunice. Because you loved your sister and started Special Olympics, the world is a better place.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Loon Days and Marsh Walk

Tom, Ed and I took some time on the 5th and went to our local craft show called Loon Days. Loon Days is actually a very well known, large annual out door craft show held in Mercer, Wisconsin during the first week of August. We didn't get to the show until about 1:30 p.m. because of various chores, and fortunately the crowd wasn't bad. I overheard one woman telling another that earlier in the morning you could hardly move for the people. People from all over come to Loon Days and the number of visitors range between 8-10,000. It's fun to watch for the different state license plates. Many of the crafted offerings are made by local artisans. I bought a five pound jug of honey for $18, and I found a Siamese Percussion Frog -- I call them "Money Frogs" because of the frog's association with wealth and good fortune in Asian beliefs -- so I bought one of those. It's not very big but it sounds like the cricket frogs in our marshes. A nice stress reliever.

I've been catching up on house cleaning so haven't been out in the field. I still need to finish pulling the thistles out of the beans. I was supposed to go to the farmers market yesterday because there was the Farm to Chef presentation, but the Bulls Blood Beet greens I was going to donate to the event got eaten by the deer. It doesn't pay to weed because the minute you do, the critters go and eat your stuff. It's so very depressing. The chickens ate my herb garden -- it looks like a desert -- and the good veggies in the garden boxes behind the house, and the plants in the high tunnel, while there, just are not producing anything yet. The only bright spot this year is the eggs now coming in from the layers and the way the free-range chickens tastes. I have to seriously re-think the way I do things here. There is nothing wrong with my farm plan, it's how I execute the farm enterprises that needs re-thinking. My lack of infrastructure is also a major problem. I hate the idea of building fences around every bit of garden space, but it looks like that is what I am going to have to do.

Tom and I walked out to the little lake in the big marsh to try and get an idea of its size before we call the Aquaculture Agent for our region. We would like to put fish in the lake and want to find out what all is required to do so. Anyway, the lake is around 100+ feet long and about 60 feet wide. I didn't realize it was that big. You should see the unusual plants in that marsh. I have never seen plants like these! It was almost like walking in an alien landscape. I would sure like to find out what some of those plants are. There were tiny delicate bright red mushrooms with creamy white gills and stems, heathers, wild cranberries, and these really strange red flowers right near the water's edge. Lots of red and pink colors. When you walked on the marsh, you sank down into the vegetative mat; it was like walking on a sponge. There were no grasses. I spotted a wild bee hive in one of the mounds, and I was very careful of where I stepped because I was so afraid of falling through the mat and into water. The only signs of disturbance in the marsh were our footsteps. Where critters don't walk, I don't want to walk, either! I would like to build a floating deck from the back of the house that would reach the lake. That way impact on the marsh would be minimal. We'll see what the consult says. It would be nice to go in our back yard and catch supper!

The berries are finally starting to come. I picked a quart of raspberries already, and I even got a half pint of red currants from my berry knoll. There were a few black currants, as well, though those plants are recovering from the bear coming though last year. Something got most of the gooseberries already, but at least there were a few. Too bad there wasn't enough to sell. No blackberries or elderberries yet. What's weird is that the leaves on the trees are noticably starting to turn to their Fall colors and we never really had a summer. It has been a strange year.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Conquering Weed

Finally made it back out to the garden and my, oh my, oh my! I can't believe how the weeds have overtaken everything again in just two weeks. It's down right depressing to try and nurse crops through such a cold season and yet the weeds grow so supremely. I don't get it. Anyway, I was going to take some pictures of the garden for you but I'm too embarassed to take any until I can get it looking half way decent again. Do you know that the beans I rescued from thistles are again buried in more thistles! And I pulled those thistles out with the roots intact, too. Wow. The spinach and Senposai both bolted so those rows are shot. I will pull them out and till that area. Maybe I'll just go ahead and plant some oats or rye for a cover crop and be done with it. I would surely like to plant some beans, but I just don't think they will grow. I actually had more frost damage out there on my cos romaine.

The Bulls Blood Beets are looking good -- nice greens but no beets. The Danvers Half Long carrots are growing well (they need thinning and weeding) but they won't be mature for a while yet. When I pulled the weeds from one row, I discovered fennel growing in the "understory", so as carefully as I could I pulled the weeds and left the fennel. The rain we had yesterday afternoon should give them a boost. I also found pole beans growing in the weeds around the pole tepees -- not as many as I originally planted, but at least some are growing. The Golden Amaranth is doing nicely; I'm not sure where it should be growth-wise because this is the first time I've tried growing it, but at least it is growing and doesn't seem to be bothered by any pests - yet. The Sweet Annie is growing but still very small. I have spied some borage and celery in the weeds in the rows I haven't gotten to yet, so I may find more surprises as the weeding progresses.

The tomatoes are looking very nice, but no flowers or fruit yet, and because of the cold temps we have at night, I'm not sure we will get any fruit. The hops look GREAT! Even the new rhizomes I planted this spring are taking off -- must like my sandy loam soil. The Cascade and Williamette hops are loaded with flowers; it will be exciting to take my first harvest from them.

In the high tunnel the Cherokee Trail of Tears and Rattlesnake pole beans are flowering, the sweet potatoes are at least green, and then everything else has at least gotten a bit larger. I hope to give everything another good drink tomorrow. It would sure be nice to get at least some cucumbers, but there are no flowers on anything.

In the OZ (the far garden sections near the fruit tree orchard) the corn, winter squash, and pole beans are buried in weeds; only the potatoes in their hills are discernible. What a mess!

We made our firewood for this winter:

There are five nice piles, and the chickens already like roosting on them.

I told Tom I want to make more to be sure I have wood for making maple syrup next spring, but, of course, he ignores me. He and Ed finished cutting up some basswood into small pieces for kindling and then today he took Dad's log splitter back to him. (Our splitter isn't working and it will be a couple of weeks before it can be repaired.) We are going to help Dad get his wood split and stacked. I want to be sure he has enough wood (I hate that outdoor wood furnace he has; I don't think it was properly installed and it burns through wood like a locomotive!) I really think this is going to be one bitterly cold winter based on the way the wild animals are acting. There are so many stories in the newspapers about bears breaking into people's homes or animals being bold -- like those !@#$% foxes by me -- I think the critters know what the winter is going to bring and it certainly has me worried.

Where I pulled the garlic in the garden boxes behind the house, I planted Wong Bok Chinese Cabbage, Detroit Red Beets, and Provider green beans. The chickens picked out most of the seeds already, but there is some Wong Bok coming up. I will try planting one more time and put some Agribon over the box. This Fall I will plant the garlic out in the field near the high tunnel where it will be easier to water it.

In the rest of the boxes the sorrel is going to seed, the spinach seed stalks are drying out, I'm waiting for the cos romaine to send up its seed stalks, and the onions are nearly ready to harvest. The chickens have decimated the shallots and potato onion tops, but I've left the bulbs in the ground for the time being. I think I will lift them in about a week to cure and separate them, and then I'll replant them out in the field this Fall with the new garlics. BTW, besides growing garlic from my own stock, I have ordered a new variety from Ronnigers: Kettle River Giant. Let's see now -- I have Samarkand, Inchelium Red, German Hardy, Czech Tan, Shvlisi, and now Kettle River Giant. I think I'm turning into a garlicaholic. :D Well, you can never have enough garlic and onions!

That's all for now. Take care and may the racoons leave your garden be!