Spring on the Farm

Spring comes every year at the same time but is still always such a surprise! The switch from our low key winter pace to the hustle of jam-packed days is swift but definitely welcome! We have been prepping beds for planting in the near term, including our onion, potato, and brassica (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc) fields. We have been discing down fields that will planted a little later such as our sweet potato, tomato and sweet corn fields.

I harvested a handful of crops that overwintered for ourselves and the crew before the tractor disced them under. These winter survivors are never enough to harvest for profit but they are are a real treat for us!
These beds were pre-hilled in the fall so all we have to do in the spring is a shallow till and they are ready to plant.
Loading up the transplanter with flats of spinach
Red and Golden beets soaking up the sun

We have been treated with such a dry end of March and early April that we have done an entire wish list of field prep tractor work in addition to the bed prep. Ben took out the subsoiler one afternoon and ran it down particularly troublesome fields. This deep penetration of the soil helps to aerate the fields and is a great way to deal with our heavy soils.

Ben ran down this field with a subsoiler. It is currently in a cover crop of winter rye which will be disced under and reincorporated. If we all goes as planned a quick summer cover crop of buckwheat will hold the field over until late summer when we will plant it to fall brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc)

In addition to field work we have also been seeding in the greenhouse, potting up for our plant sale, and tending to our hoop house full of sugar snap peas. We hope that the second half of April brings as much success as the first half. From here on out we are wanting to plant at least once a week and continue to seed more and more! In addition to what’s been on our plate the last few weeks, we will now have more plants to keep weed free and watered (if the sky doesn’t do it for us). I will also start having to plan for the CSA in earnest getting everyones schedules set and mapping out our delivery routes. And finally we have a plant sale to get ready for!

Garlic after several weeding passes and a gentle rain shower
Half of these plants are now outside hardening off before planting later in the week
Sugar snap peas should be in the first couple CSA boxes

If you are wanting any organic garden starts this spring, keep Mother’s Day weekend open. We will have vegetables, flowers and herb plants available. I will post/send details about the sale later but the basics are that we will have the online store available again this year for preordering with pick up either at 2nd Street Market on Saturday or at the farm on Sunday. Additionally, day of sales will be possible at 2nd Street Market. The sale will run for 2 weekends this way starting May 8th.

Creeping Thyme for the plant sale

All in all, the farm is humming along and after a refreshing winter break we are ready to roll! Can’t wait to get food into your hands!

Hurray for spring!

Parsley

Fresh parsley is a wonderful herb that can really elevate a dish. It does look similar to cilantro but the taste is quite different. It is mainly used in Italian dishes, but is not limited to it. It can be served fresh or cooked. A favorite way we use it is to add to grain salads. We’ll roast some vegetables (like beets and carrots), cook a grain (like rice or cous cous), and add chopped garlic, parsley, maybe a squeeze or 2 of fresh lemon and a strong cheese (like feta or goat). Simple and delicious! Parsley can last weeks in the fridge! You’ll want to keep it a plastic bag and wash only what you use. You can also dry fresh parsley by spreading out the bunch and placing in a paper bag stored in a dark dry area like a pantry.

Gremolata

Parsley Biscuits

Meatballs with Parsley and Parmesan

Roasted Potatoes with Parsley Pesto

Cabbage

Cabbage is a great vegetable! It is relatively easy to grow (always more reliable then its fellow family members broccoli and cauliflower) and quite versatile in the kitchen. It can be enjoyed raw by shredding for coleslaw or as a taco topper. When cooked, it can be roasted, boiled, fried- you name it! We especially like it with carrots and potatoes. If stored properly it will last for months. It should be stored in your fridge and wrapped in plastic. If you just leave it out, the moisture will wick away and the crisp leaves will wilt.

Cabbage Rolls

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Easy Taco Slaw

CSA Extended Season Week 3

This Week’s Harvest

Evan helps bring in our storage cabbage on a cold fall day

Farm News

With this final delivery under our belt we can officially make the shift to winter mode on the farm. This is time spent maintaining all the vehicles, tractors and equipment from a season of wear and tear. It’s catching up on office work such as inputting all of our paper copies of harvests in a database so we can easily see and analyze yields and completing farm finances. We’ll have a few planning sessions were we will go over what worked and didn’t for 2020 and what we’d like the 2021 season to look like. We’ll “go” to conferences (this year all conferences will be online), make our budget, launch our 2021 CSA, hire for 2021, and wash and pack a few more large wholesale orders of winter roots. We will also allow ourselves to take a break, sleep in, read a book, play games with the kids, and address much neglected house projects.

From the farmer’s perspective 2020 was a good year. While there was a point in the season that our riding lawn mower, John Deere tractor, and delivery van were all broken at once, we didn’t have any out of the ordinary malfunctions (last year, for example, the irrigation well went out). We did have disappointing crop yields and new disease problems show up in the sweet potato, potato, and rutabaga crops, but we planted enough to have all three of these crops available for CSA, 2nd Street Market, and wholesale outlets. From a purely numbers perspective, 2020 was just fine.

Ben cultivates the fall beets with our new tractor. Both the beet planting and the tractor were major successes this season!

However, we all know that 2020 was anything but fine! We are still in the midst of a pandemic that has been with us the entire season. While we busied ourselves planting, harvesting, weeding, and washing, too many Americans were out of work. On top of the pandemic, social unrest swept across the nation this summer, causing the country to confront its racist past; a past which inevitably infiltrates aspects of current life. For example, past government policies certainly play a role in present farming demographics, which include dwindling numbers of African American farmers and historic low levels of black land ownership. Just last year I learned things I was shocked I hadn’t known before, such as a 1997 lawsuit against the USDA for discriminating against black farmers in loan applications and other assistance programs. I wrote about a few articles I read on the subject in this blog post from 2019.

For me winter is a time to reflect on the season, brainstorm and take necessary steps to improve. Thirteen years in, I am realizing that I can grow as a farmer not just by learning about soil health and plant disease management, but also by thinking critically about land ownership and land use. I don’t pretend to have any answers but just being a mindful citizen is important. I enjoy organic farming and its relevance to so many facets of life! Turns out, our direct to consumer small farm model is a good way to get food to people during a pandemic as well. Thanks for supporting our farm this season!

View of the farm from the fall field of greens

Recipes

Wonderful World of Winter Roots!

A few years back, while I was cleaning out the hoophouse and listening to the radio, I got really annoyed at a food writer’s take on seasonal eating. She spent the entire time complaining about winter vegetables. She was feeling the pressure to eat seasonally and was frankly making accuses not to. I distinctly remember her calling winter vegetables sad and boring. I don’t mean to box people into one way of eating, I just thought the food critic’s piece, which felt mostly like an exercise to make herself feel better, didn’t need to be out in the world. If anything we should be encouraging people to eat vegetables period- and winter vegetables, several of which are unknown to many households, should be celebrated! Plus they are very versatile! They can be mashed, roasted, pureed, fried, hidden in baked goods, or even enjoyed raw in grated salads and slaws. Come March I will be craving garden fresh tomatoes as much as anyone, but until then there is lots of time to enjoy winter roots!

A spread of winter vegetables grown on the farm

A month ago, 2nd Street Market staff asked me to teach a class on root vegetables for them to video tape. I brought in vegetables that are in season in Ohio right now, discussed simple ways to cook them and store them, and brought in 2 favorite recipes. The video is up on YouTube now! If you know everything there is to know about root veggies you can skip ahead to minute 8 for the recipes- a cheesy carrot casserole and a kohlrabi and radish salad with cilantro and ginger!

If you are wondering how to get your hands on these winter vegetables, we are having a sale this Saturday! Orders must be placed ahead of time from the webstore and picked up at the farm (10786 Mile Rd. New Lebanon 45345) on Saturday. We are taking orders until Thursday evening at 8. Visit the store here. This winter, I hope you create a dish or two that you love and discover a vegetable or two that you didn’t know you liked!

Extended Season Week 2

This Week’s Harvest

Farm News

Our major fall root harvest is complete and we ended up with a trailer full of food! I was looking through old pictures and came across our “big” root harvest from 2016. I had captioned the picture “yesterday I felt less like a farmer and more like a squirrel”.

Nowadays this haul looks so small. Instead of a few 25 pound harvest bins of this and that we have dozens of 500 pound pallet bins. We have gradually scaled up to our current operation acquiring the necessary equipment overtime. First we needed a new tractor with a front end loader, which we were able to purchase in 2017. We also needed a more efficient way of washing the roots and our pack shed upgrades have included concreting the barn and assembling a wash-line of rinse conveyor, root washer and sorting table. The acquisition of pallet bins has helped make the harvest more systematic. And just last year we purchased a shipping container, which we rigged up with a homemade cooling system, giving us a place to store this increased production.

The John Deere has more horsepower and capabilities such as undercutting which lifts and loosens the soil making the harvest easy
The front end loader helps us easily move food around

We have scaled up our winter root production for a few reasons. A main reason is that we are able to grow them well (most of them! still working on a perfect potato crop). They also provide income during the slower winter months and all the washing and packing has been a good job to give our employees to provide more year round employment for some. Their storage capabilities are great and it is a nice to have a product that is more shelf stable for a change. In fact the last 2 years some of our storage crops have lasted all winter and spring and helped bulk out our first CSA shares of the following season! Added bonus- they taste so good!

Getting carrots from the trailer cooler to wash

Recipes

Kohlrabi and Carrot Mash

Kohlrabi and Radish Slaw

Deep Dish Pizza with Cilantro Pesto and Brussles Sprouts

CSA- Extended Season Week 1

This Week’s Harvest

  • Salad Mix
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Parsley
  • Onions
  • Kale

Farm News

Happy Thanksgiving! Of course this time of year we like to reflect on what we are grateful for. We are grateful we get to do this work which would not be possible without dedicated customers, family support, and hardworking employees. We are grateful our family and staff (and as far as we know customers) have thus far stayed safe during the pandemic.

This year has been considerably more exhausting. It is probably a combination of having grown more food and also having the kids home more. Our usual go to of sending them off for sleepovers when we have a particular push to get something planted or harvested was not available to us. I’m grateful our kids don’t seem to be holding a grudge that their parents are incredibly busy.

The kids help harvest cantaloupe over the weekend

During this time of reflection we like to look to the future and plan for the next season. While the season is still fresh in our minds we can remember what worked and what didn’t and what adjustments could be helpful moving forward. These last few days have had us running around like it’s the peak of summer and so a thought that is on my mind right now is that we really need to have a full crew through November. Typically we’ve started slimming down the crew in October as the planting comes to an end, crops no longer need to be cultivated, and the frost kills the summer crops. This year I am learning that the start of our smaller crew needs to be delayed. All of November we have been harvesting bulk bin upon bulk bin, washing for large wholesale orders, and filling our direct customer orders as well. It’s taken us a second to realize that we are still quite busy. We’ve had a couple local teenagers help us on Sundays and for about 3 Sundays straight I’d say that this was the last Sunday, only to call on them later on in the week. Of course being so busy that we can keep folks working here longer is a very good problem to have!

Picking on the weekend

Bringing me back to my original thought which was one of gratitude. We can’t say enough how thankful we are to be doing this work and have it sustain us during this unprecedented year. We are grateful for our growth, for seeing what still needs improved upon, and having the capabilities to make required adjustments. If you have any thoughts on what you liked or didn’t like about the vegetables this year drop us a note! We’ll be planning out next year in the coming weeks starting with our seed order!

Recipes

CSA WEEK 24

This Week’s Harvest

  • Red Daikon Radish
  • Broccoli
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Red Butter Lettuce
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Cilantro
  • Purple Potatoes
  • Japanese Sweet Potatoes
  • Multicolor Carrots
  • Brussels Sprouts

Farm News

We hope you enjoyed these past 24 weeks of fresh seasonal vegetables–both the kitchen staples as well as the unique items. I enjoyed seeing what everyone was creating on the Mile Creek CSA Facebook Group- lots of delicious looking dishes. I think that the year’s biggest successes were the melons, sweet corn and fall cauliflower. Every year we build on past seasons. Last year we found a cauliflower variety that works well for us but the timing of the planting was just a bit too early, so this year we adjusted the seeding date pushing it back a week and had a really nice run of big blemish free heads. No doubt the weather was on our side when we were able to seed and plant 4 rounds of sweet corn 2 weeks apart giving us 8 straight weeks of sweet corn. What were some of your favorites from the season?

Of course every season has its failures. You probably noticed you never got garlic in your share. In 2019 we had a crop failure because of a really wet winter and early spring. We had enough to give to CSA last year but not enough to save any for planting. So we had to wait until we had it in the budget to invest in a new round of seed stock. The good news is we bought seed garlic this fall and finished planting it last week. The hope is that the 2021 yield will give us plenty for CSA and enough to save for planting going forward. We can’t wait! It was sorely missed!

First crop of 2021 in the ground!

This year we invested in new equipment. Members who were in the CSA last year heard all about our tractor breakdowns as we cycled through several Allis Chalmers G’s, an ancient cultivating tractor. Ben was able to fix them for the most part, but the truth is that our operation was outgrowing this style tractor. We were offered the opportunity to try out a new tractor from a new company that makes tractors and implements for vegetable farms that is located here in Ohio. They came out and did a video shoot of Ben cultivating and changing out implements. We are able to buy the tractor now. It is really exciting and wild to have a brand new tractor as our newest tractor prior was built in the 80s. Enjoy this video of Ben cultivating the radishes that are in this week’s box!

The true indicator of how the year went is if we gave out 24 weeks of full shares with lots of variety and I’d say we did! We were certainly very busy doing it and I only managed to take a picture of 3 of the shares. It was a pleasure growing this food. We are able to invest in our farm thanks to our CSA member support so thank you so much! If you aren’t ready to say good bye just yet, we hope that you can join us for 3 more weeks for our Extended Season. We’ve been busy harvesting our storage crops for late fall and winter and if the weather holds we still have plenty of fresh greens too! Stay tuned for details!

Recipes

Coming Up Next Year …….. Plenty of delicious certified organic produce!

CSA WEEK 23

This Week’s Harvest

  • Beets with tops
  • Carrots
  • Rutabaga
  • Bok Choi
  • Dill
  • Potatoes
  • Japanese Sweet Potatoes
  • Head Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Red Onions

Farm News

We made it through the wet week and another cold night last night and are looking forward to an unseasonably warm and sunny week! Perfect for continuing our bulk harvests of fall crops and finishing up the garlic planting!

Yesterday we prepped for the cold. Since the forecast was calling for winds of 20 mph all night long we couldn’t easily cover crops with remay so we harvested the most tender crops. We picked all the broccoli we needed for the week and then battled the wind and dropping temperatures to pick the storage cabbage. It even snowed at one point.

Picking cabbage in the cold
Evan missed football to help us gather the cabbage

We have a large piece of row cover that covers 7 beds that we were able to use and cover cilantro, salad mix, spinach, and head lettuce. We tacked down the west side and just lifted the remay and the wind completely unfurled the giant cover over all the beds.

Getting ready to cover tender crops for the night
Tucked in for the night

We were glad for the wind as it really helps dry out the fields. In addition to needing to finish the garlic planting, we are concerned for the crops that have been sitting in water for several days. Carrots are especially susceptible to rot. In hind sight now that we see what the garlic beds currently look like (dry easy to get into) and what the carrot beds look like (still very wet), we wish we had tabled the garlic and just harvested carrots last week. We struggled to get the garlic in and force planted when we really shouldn’t have. At the time the garlic planting had a “now or never” feel to it. We both agree it would have been time better spent harvesting our beautiful carrot crop. Now we are rescuing carrots from the muck and cleaning them will take 3 times as long as they are covered in mud. Ah well, 13 years in and we are still constantly learning! Knowing that we can improve- and how we can improve- certainly encourages and motivates us to keep us going!

Garlic beds drying up nicely. The 2 to the right have been planted- 4 more beds to go!
Starting in on the carrots. Pulling the crop out of the low lying wet section first.

Recipes

Coming Up Next Week (our best guess….) Napa cabbage, cilantro, Japanese sweet potatoes, carrots, purple potatoes, brussels sprouts, head lettuce, daikon radish

CSA WEEK 22

THIS WEEK’S HARVEST

FARM NEWS

I wish that I could say today that all the garlic is planted, but I can only report that it is half planted. After such a dry start to fall, we are currently in a wet pattern and juggling tasks between lots of rain. Last week I reported that the garlic beds had been hilled up. With rain in the forecast last Friday night, we were hoping to have the opportunity to till and plant on Friday, but the field was still wet from rain earlier in the week. We waited as long as we possibly could, checking both the soil moisture level and the radar. Finally around 5 we decided we better till the beds. There was no time to plant, but if we got the beds completely ready we could at least jump into planting as soon as possible. You can see in the picture the beds are still wet. A few times Ben had to stop and scrape mud off the tires. Not ideal!

Ben tills the garlic beds before a thunderstorm rolls in.

Unfortunately, actually planting is proving to be very difficult with ill timed rains continuing and gray skies keeping that moisture locked in. Yesterday we managed to plant two beds but it was not pretty and is damaging to the soil. This is definitely something we don’t like doing! Tomorrow is a partly sunny day and we’ll just hope we get enough sun in the morning to let us get back in there in the afternoon as Thursday brings another round of heavy rain!

The planter barely makes it down the bed as we “mud” the garlic in

EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT: Charity and Tabitha

This year we have 2 sisters working for us. This is both Charity and Tabitha’s first year at the farm but you wouldn’t be able to tell- farm work comes naturally to them! They are both very involved at Hilltop Equestrian Center where they volunteer. Experience lifting heavy bales of hay, being outside in the elements, and getting clothes dirty is bound to happen at an equestrian center, and carries over well to a vegetable farm. Tabby has also worked at Learning Tree Farm (one of our favorite places in Dayton!) and Charity has worked at Bayer’s Melon Farm. This year they helped harvest and were in charge of every single CSA pack.  We increased the number of CSA shares this year, but they have managed to get the pack done in the same amount of time as before! Tabby enjoys seeing the process through from harvest to pack and finds the end result, whether it be a CSA box of mixed veggies or a wholesale box of cabbage very rewarding. Charity also enjoys the end result– extra produce that she gets to take home! Charity just graduated high school and Tabby is a (newish) newlywed, and even though they see each other at Hilltop, working here together as helped foster an even closer relationship. We are so grateful to have them!

RECIPES

Beef Stew with Root Vegetables (Vegetarian Version)

Lemony Spinach Rice

Butternut and Cauliflower Curry

Kohlrabi and Fennel Slaw with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

Coming Up Next Week (our best guess….) Japanese sweet potatoes, Rutabaga, Spinach, Head Lettuce, Carrots, Broccoli, Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Red onions