Last week I spoke about the long hours we’ve been putting in and this week was no different. I realized I took a few pictures around sunset so this week’s blog is a series of late evening pictures. The kids are spending time with cousins for a couple of weeks so both Ben and I keep working well after the crew has left for the day. It’s good to get a lot done but we do miss the kids–and the balance of life they provide!
There are not enough hours in the day or days in the week! We had a to do list for Sunday and at the end of the day, when only half the list was crossed off, I thought I should share it as a snippet of what farming is really like– a series of to-do lists that we never ever get to fully check off.
“Seed beans” is the most frustrating item on the list. We still have not seeded any beans for this year! First we had the dry spell and since we couldn’t keep up with irrigating, we weren’t adding anything new that would also need to be watered. On Father’s Day, we finally we got rain (yay!) and were able to think about seeding beans. So it was on an earlier to do list and Ben was literally in the barn getting the seeds and planter ready when we got hit with nearly 2 inches of rain in 30 minutes from a thunderstorm cell that just happened to develop right over us. Beans would have to wait. Bringing us to Sunday when they made it back on the list. But first, beds would have to be made- that was the item that did get done – “prep corn beds”. But we ran out of time to seed the beans (by the way, running out of time means it was 11 pm and we were still working through the list!). The reason behind the push to get it done was that we were planning to plant corn on Monday and wanted to water the freshly planted corn and bean beds at the same time. Well we managed to get the corn planted Monday and Ben was planning to seed the beans in the evening and then run the irrigation all night. I don’t even remember at this point what on Monday’s to-do list was ahead of beans (probably fix the irrigation water reel which had broken?!) , but we ended up running out of time again!
Sadly I can’t report yet that beans have been seeded. We have 3 more weeks to seed them before it’s actually too late to get a crop in. This is enough time and I am not too worried. We’ll have beans at some point. The wait will make us appreciate them all the more as soon as they do make it in the weekly shares!
The most exciting farm news from the past week is that we have a new way of harvesting summer squash. Summer squash is one of the crops we grow for our co-op, Great River Organics. So we grow a lot of it! After a couple years of schlepping 30 lb zucchini bins down 400 foot beds, we are excited to kiss that practice good-bye. We got a harvest conveyor which is really like a giant ladder with a moving belt that stretches across 5 beds. We harvest the squash and place it on the belt and the belt moves it down to our harvest wagon where someone is waiting to bin it all up.
We are starting to use it for other crops too. The video above is of a kohlrabi harvest. We pulled the entire bed, which was around 1500 pounds, and used the conveyor to bring it all in. It’ll be a great way to bring in our storage cabbage! The crew is really excited that we get to save our backs for the next 3 months of squash harvest! And we are excited we have added another improvement to the farm!
The big news on the farm this week is relief. We had not had significant rain since May 20th and had been scrambling to keep the farm well watered. It was actually impossible to water everything and our potatoes were left to fend for themselves and other crops just given the bare minimum to survive. Simply put, our crops were not thriving (the fennel in this week’s box is a good example–it’s perfectly fine but the bulbs are definitely smaller than they could be).
We are also still in the thick of planting season and planting into crumbly dust is difficult and prepping bone-dry fields is impossible. Not to mention the more we plant, the more crops that then need to be watered! We actually held off on planting and ended up a little behind on that front. On Thursday and Friday last week we finally got caught up on planting and then on Sunday it rained!! We are so relieved. Our potatoes will be happy, our sweet potatoes finally have some real saturation to take off, the corn and salad mix will thrive, Ben doesn’t have to devote 70% of his time to irrigation set up (at least for a few days!), and the ground will be a good moisture level to start prepping our cover crop fields and fall production fields! So all in all very good news for the farm and farmers!
Not all farm news is good news and we do have crop failures from time to time. Sugar snap peas are a CSA member favorite but they can be tricky. For years we had issues of seed corn maggot eating our snap pea seeds when we direct seeded. About 3 years ago we switched to transplanting pea plants. This has definitely worked. This year we wanted to spread out the pea harvest over a longer period of time in hopes that peas would be in the CSA share more than once. We decided to sow 2 varieties of peas on the same day whose maturation date varies by 10 days. So sowing and transplanting would happen at the same time but harvesting would be a week apart.
Well this week’s box features the later maturing variety which worked great with good yields and yummy fruit. Unfortunately peas were supposed to be in last week’s box too but the other variety was a crop failure. I am not sure if it was the 27 degree night that set it back beyond repair or the 90 degree days in May and June, or maybe the variety just doesn’t transplant well. In any case the difference between the 2 varieties is about 100 pounds. Next year we will stick with the variety that produced well and do 2 plantings 1 week apart. Now we’ll just have to hope the weather works out for us to be able to plant both sowings! It is nice to be able to have solutions to crop failures but such a bummer to have to wait an entire year to implement them.
You may have noticed your share is full of greens. This is greens season! Greens like the cooler weather of spring and early summer so we grow lots of them this time of year. Several greens are then absent during the warm months of July and August, but return to the harvest list in the fall. This will likely be the last week for arugula, spinach and braising greens until the fall. While we have several more plantings of head lettuce to enjoy, it is unlikely the heads will be as glorious as they are in the month of June and then again in October.
We do try to have a consistent supply of salad mix all season long. To do this we start a round every 2 to 3 weeks for about 20 weeks! One day last week I took a picture of all the plantings of salad mix we had going at once.
The third round of salad is giving us a run for our money. We planted it last Wednesday since the forecast was calling for a 90 % chance of rain on Thursday. Well after it rained everywhere else but on us, we dragged 4 hoses out to water it by hand on Thursday. I then decided to water it by hand again on Saturday night. We are using the overhead sprinkler to water everything else on the farm, field by field, and these 2 beds of salad have to wait in line for the sprinkler. They were looking really sad in the 90 degree heat and their turn for the overhead sprinkler isn’t until Tuesday night. So I gave them a little more water to hold them over. The things we do for fresh salad mix!!
We’ve approached the time when all aspects of the farm operation are in full swing- aka Go Time. We’ve got weekly seeding in the greenhouse, planting in the field, weeding in the beds, a seemingly never ending list of tractor work and now we are adding harvest and delivery into the mix. Hooray! That’s the best part- the culmination of all this hard work. We hope this food satisfies your taste buds, gets creative juices flowing in the kitchen, and maybe even gives you peace of mind.
Between the busy farm season, kids suddenly at home all the time, COVID concerns, and protests across the country it is a very physically and mentally taxing time. The history of farming certainly has a role to play in the current unrest. I will link to a Reveal podcast, Losing Ground, that we found important and eye-opening that investigates systemic discrimination within the USDA.
So if you happen to have an interest and an hour, give it a listen. Stay safe and be well!
Well, technically, presenting just 18 of our 28 deliveries. Oops, I missed photographing 10 whole weeks of deliveries! That tells me we were very busy last season. Seeding weekly from mid-February through July, planting weekly from mid-April though August, harvesting almost daily from late May through November, delivering four days a week June through November, and staffing 35 weeks of farmer’s market can do that to you! Oh, and did I mention daily washing, packing, weeding, fixing and communicating? So, no hammock time–but that’s ok!
Our goal is to grow the most delicious and nutritious food we can for our customers, and to grow our customer base so the farm can provide a viable income for both Ben and me and provide our staff a good wage. We also hope that there’s money left to invest in the farm and to purchase equipment to improve our efficiency, which in turn leads to better quality of life – whether more reasonable hours for us or wage increases for our employees. Thanks to an experienced, caring and hard-working crew we’ve been able to grow the most flavorful and wholesome food we can. And thanks to increases in both CSA membership and wholesale sales over the past three years, we’ve been able to reinvest in the farm.
The 2019 season brought planned improvements to our packing facility. We concreted the entire floor of the packing barn, installed lighting, bought a rinse conveyer for washing efficiency and added a 60-foot insulated shipping container for more vegetable storage space.
The 2019 season also brought unexpected expenses. For 10 years, our 1950 Allis Chalmers G cultivating tractor was reliable to complete all of the cultivating work. This year, though, we seemed to push it a bit too hard. Our expanded production area, together with the naturally heavy soil, meant we ran G in a higher gear then we think it maybe likes. In short, it expired. Being without a cultivating tractor during peak cultivating season meant we had no time to spare to get another cultivating tractor. Ultimately, we ended up going through two more G engines, which would require a whole other blog post to explain. Fortunately we had enough in the business bank account to meet these unexpected expenses, and now we know we need to look for a cultivating tractor upgrade for 2020! Also fortunately, there are lots of options for cultivating tractors with larger engines and more capabilities. Ben has been surfing the tractor classifieds and has a few tractors in mind that he will check out next week.
We’re enthusiastic about building on our 2019 improvements both in terms of equipment upgrades and production knowledge. In 2020 we hope to continue to serve our market customers incomparably delicious veggies, grow our 260-member CSA a little bit, and refine our wholesale accounts in a way that allows us to maximize efficiency. I’d also like to grow some quality of life improvements in 2020: being more present with the kids, more on top of laundry, maybe a little less stressed. I think it can happen! And if I manage to take a picture of EVERY SINGLE CSA share this coming season, you’ll be the first to know. By the way, 2020 CSA info found here and online sign up happens here! Very excited to bring the 2020 season on!
What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to go down memory lane and revisit the life you’ve steadily been building with your partner? From our days as newlyweds at a Hawaii goat dairy farm to the start of Mile Creek Farm to bringing kids into the fold, enjoy these pictures of the last 13 years!
I’m really looking forward to the next 13 years and excited to experience all that they have in store for Mile Creek Farm and my family! Happy Valentine’s Day!
While this delivery concludes our 2019 CSA season, it does not mean we are out of vegetables! We will be setting up a winter market table at 2nd Street Market every other Saturday throughout January and February! So, mark you calendars because we will be at market on 1/4, 1/18, 2/1 and 2/15. We still have ample supply of everything (minus the garlic) in this week’s box, plus butternut squash, turnips, and purple daikon. We are so grateful that our CSA and market customers have fully welcomed “seasonal eating” into their diets and find value in a box of vegetables that is heavy on storage roots!
On the other hand the coop through which we sell some of our produce was recently told by a grocery store that their local food program had come to an end for the year and they would not be purchasing from us again until next summer!?! Interesting, considering we still have thousands of pounds of food grown right here on our local farm! This is really just a minor inconvenience because there are many other outlets for our produce that understand the seasonality of local food. And, while we do run into some hiccups like this when growing and marketing produce through our coop, the upside to growing larger quantities of food are many.
In fact we have found that increasing our production has allowed us better serve our market and CSA customers. Since we’ve been growing and selling more produce through our coop the last three years we also think our market stand and CSA have been stronger in regards to quality, quantity and variety! Really when you get right down to it, we are so grateful to ALL of our customers for supporting us through yet another year! Our CSA and market customers have been and continue to be there for us throughout the entire season, while we’ve also been given an opportunity to grow the farm through our involvement with Great River Organics (our coop). All of this to say, that as we look back on the year we want to thank everyone who has supported our farm and let you all know that we are very much looking forward to charging ahead and growing lots more produce in 2020!
We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and we hope to serve you soon in the New Year!