Alliums

Yes, getting fancy with the terminology.  It makes a more impressive title than “Garlic and Onions”.  Garlic an onions are both members of the allium family.  Your word of the day :)

This afternoon Keith and I were in the “kale” garden weeding for about an hour.  Now that the kale is so huge, there are only weeds in the spots where the kale didn’t come up the first time.  Or the second time.  About half of the gaps are filled now, but those gaps gave a few weeds free reign for a while which made the young kale difficult to find.  We have actually done a very good job weeding this year, so there really weren’t many – they were just large.  Because there were so few, we got the whole garden done in just an hour.  Two months ago it took 2 or 3 hours.

The “kale” garden, though mostly kale, also has a row of onions and two rows of eggplant.  While weeding I found one spot where somehow I’d planted 4 onions in a 6″ square area.  I’m not sure how I did that, but 3 of the 4 were pretty large and the 4th is pretty small.  So I picked two of the largest to make room for the other two.  Then there was another very large one at one end of the row I just had to pick to keep ready for dinners this week.  I’m so impressed with how well they did this year!  IMG_3089That large onion is 4″ in diameter.  That might not sound like much to some people, but we haven’t had any get that large in years.

Something that’s been on my list of things to do all week was to dig up garlic.  In the fall I planted garlic in two old compost piles.  Two years ago a bunch of barn litter was dumped in two spots outside of the garden fence.  I figured they would be perfect spots for the garlic.  After 2 years of composting, the soil was nice and soft and would make the harvest quite easy – unlike the strawberry patch where it was last time.  Ever dig garlic out of concrete?  Not fun.

Each pile had a different variety of garlic.  One softneck, one hardneck.  Apparently they finish growing at different times, too, as the one was almost completely dried up and the other is still green and standing tall.  Today I finally took a few minutes and dug up the one that was obviously done growing.  I got 16 bulbs.  A few less than I planted, but back in the spring I weeded while they were still small and uprooted several of them.  Some of the bulbs didn’t have their stalks anymore, but most did, so I looked up “How to braid garlic” on the internet and found a 2 1/2 minute video to show me how to do it.  I went out, braided my garlic, and now it’s hanging on an old curtain hook on the back porch.  Since the porch is all cleaned up after Wednesday’s cleaning event and I can open the windows again, it’s a good place for the garlic to hang and cure.

IMG_3092 IMG_3091

This kind is Broadleaf Czech.  It’s a softneck variety that is able to be braided for drying and storage.  According to the Seed Saver’s catalog, it’s sweet and mild when cooked and has a full, pungent garlic flavor when raw.  To be honest – I chose it just because of the name.  I am about 87% Czech and Keith is half.  Cute story – when he and I had just started dating  in high school and his grandma found out what my last name was, she asked what nationality I was.  When she got the answer she said, “Oh!  She’ll bring it back to the family!!”  I guess she knew something we didn’t, because we’d been dating only a few weeks :)   Since the half of his family that he spent most of his time with was the Czech side, and because his name is Czech, that’s what he considers himself.  So, now and then I’ll choose a particular seed variety simply because Czech is in the name.  Silly, maybe, but how else do you choose between 20 different kind of garlic and 100 different kinds of tomatoes?IMG_3090 IMG_3089

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be harvesting the other garlic in a few weeks after the stems start to dry out.  That one is a hardneck called German Red.  Did I mention that half of the tiny part of my heritage that isn’t Czech is German, and so is part of the other half of Keith’s??  He, he :)

 

Garden Pics

I don’t have much to say.  What do you say when your whole life is eating, farm work, and the summer children’s community theater?  One more week….  So back to the farm!  I thought I’d post some pics of the very early development of the straw bale garden.  Radishes, beans, and zucchini are the first sprouters.  I think there are some beets coming up.  It’s very exciting :)   The “kale” garden is doing well.  It’s in quotes because there are also eggplant and onions and a few herbs in there, though they haven’t come up well.  I noticed that there are little green tomatoes alreadyIMG_3008 IMG_3007 IMG_3005 IMG_3004 IMG_3003 and just for fun, I threw in one of the area that is quickly becoming my Monarch butterfly garden :)   Over the years I’ve been allowing milkweed to grow wherever it pops up to help the Monarchs.

IMG_3001 IMG_2999 IMG_2997

Tending the Gardens

Keith tilled the unplanted part of the kale garden on Saturday.  Tasha and I filled in the many gaps with new seed.  Today I planted marigolds at the end of the rows just to make it pretty – and maybe they’ll repel bad bugs.  We also got the eggplants in, which are in the middle of that garden with onions.  I’m not sure what to do with the other empty section…  This morning we did some weeding in “the other” garden.  Not perfect, but it will slow things down a it.  I assessed what’s growing and what’s not and will have to do some replanting there, too, but it’s not as bad as I thought.  In places.  Planting early this year definitely didn’t help as much as I thought it would.  Every year is a new adventure!

Here are some pics from Saturday’s replanting session.

My planting tools: some cool tea, new kale seeds, and popsicle sticks to mark where the new seeds went.

My planting tools: some cool tea, new kale seeds, and popsicle sticks to mark where the new seeds went.

This is part of a row that's not too bad - just a few gaps to re-seed.

This is part of a row that’s not too bad – just a few gaps to re-seed.

This row - not so good.  Just one plant.  I think I used old seed in this row.

This row – not so good. Just one plant. I think I used old seed in this row.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

If you live in the USA, you’ve probably heard this saying.  As an aside, I can’t think of this saying without thinking of this little joke:  If April showers bring May flowers, than what do Mayflowers bring?  Pilgrims! ;)

So back to the flowers…  Our April was relatively rainy.  Especially last week at the very end of the month.  And it did seem to help bring about some new flowers!  I know I haven’t finished my series on the small farm workshops, but today I just wanted to take a few minutes to share some pictures of the flowers that are currently in bloom on our farm.

Bradford PearThis Bradford was bought at Aldi for $5 at the end of our first spring here – 15 years ago.  I thought I had a great deal.  A whole fruit tree for only $5!  Unfortunately I found when reading the tag on our way home that it produces “insignificant fruit”.  After a few years we figured what that meant.  The pears are about the size of my pinky fingernail.  But it’s better than the dead maple that was there before!

May Day giftThese flowers were delivered to us on May Day by a dear friend and her children.  Hannah put them in our hanging pots out back.

Nanking Bush Cherry

 

 

 

This is our Nanking Bush Cherry.  The first cherry tree we bought didn’t survive the massive 2-year Japanese Beetle invasion a few years after we planted it.  It only produced a handful of cherries and died.  A few years ago we planted this bush cherry instead.  I figured it was small enough that we could cover it with some kind of netting, if needed, to keep other critters from eating the fruit on us.  This is the FIRST time it’s flowered!  So, maybe we’ll get a few cherries this year.

ForsythiaForsythia.  We have several of these along the driveway.  Last year I took a beautiful picture of them on the other side of the drive.  This is the only one that is halfway blooming this year.  Not quite as impressive as last year, but better than nothing.

DaffodilDaffodil.  No big story here.  Just one of bulbs we’ve planted over the years.  I love daffodils.  They’re so cheery :)

Chives with budsThis doesn’t quite count as a flower – yet.  But the little brownish buds in the chives will be purple flowers in a few days.  The chives look amazing this year.  Tall and full.  Perfect for putting in goat cheese!

DandelionAnd, of course, the humble, perennial dandelion!  I know that there is an ongoing war on the poor dandelion, especially in the cities and suburbs.  But I’ve always liked them.  My moms’ yard was the only one on our block with dandelions because we didn’t have the money to spend on killing them on a routine basis.  My best friend’s mom once light-heartedly laughed about all the “pretty yellow flowers” we had in our yard.  We like them around here.  They brighten up the lawn.  They are also well-loved by goats and pigs.  The other day I had some greens in my lunch salad, and I think I’m going to have the children pick some flowers later so we can make fritters with them.  I did it once about 10 years ago.  Quite yummy, actually!

 

Happy Mother's DayAnd last, but not least!  As I was putting this together, Hannah brought me this little bouquet of wildflowers as an early Mother’s Day gift.  One day they’ll all be grown up and won’t bring me flowers so often and I’ll miss it so much!  But, by then I hope to  have lots of grandchildren to do it instead.

Have a great week, and take some time to at least look at the flowers, if not smell them!

 

Rethinking Thomas Lincoln

100_1265I believe that in the past I have judged Thomas Lincoln too harshly.

You know Thomas Lincoln – the 16th President’s father?  (I was going to post a photo of him here, but I’m not sure I can find one that’s not copywrited, so if you want to see a photo, you can google it.)

I don’t remember when I got this impression – probably in elementary school when we first learned about Abraham Lincoln.  I just remember thinking that Abe’s dad was a bit controlling.  And it seems that they didn’t have a good relationship, by all reports.  All the boy wanted to do was grow up and live his own life.  But his dad wouldn’t let him go until he was 21, which was the age of adulthood in the early 1800′s.  He mostly kept him working on the homestead and also made Abe give him any money he earned elsewhere.  I know, I know – that was normal at that time.  Life was hard, yada yada.  But sheesh!  It wasn’t fair.  Let the boy live his life, keep what he earned, do your own work for pete’s sake!

Yeah – typical response of a late 20th Century American – and suburban – child.

Well, now I’m 46.  And I’ve been at this “farming” thing for just over 15 years.  I put “farming” in quotes, because we only own 1.65 acres.  Though we produce a good amount of our own food when things work out well, we are FAR (FAR!!!) from self-sufficient.  My husband has a job that keeps us from being homeless, naked, and hungry.  Which is a very good thing.  We are working at making our little place profitable, but we could give it up tomorrow – sell all the animals, replant grass where the gardens are, and go back to buying all our food someplace else – and survive just fine.  But we like raising as much of our own food as we can.  We know where it came from, if there were any chemicals sprayed on it (usually not), we pick it fresh and eat it almost right away, or preserve it for winter.  We like being able to walk out the back door and collect our eggs from our free-ranging chickens, and get milk from our dairy goats.

100_1298Back to poor, misunderstood Thomas…  We have only 1.65 acres.  I have no serious idea of what it was like to TRULY be self-sufficient.  To travel, by foot, from one state to another with just a wagon-load of belongings to find a piece of land and start to carve out a homestead out of it.  To have to grow, glean wild plants, or hunt all my food.  How hard it is to have to cut down – with a HAND-powered saw – EVERY tree you need to build your little log cabin.  And to cut down more trees, or dig up prairie grasses, to make a garden.  There were no seed catalogs, with hundreds of varieties, to order from.  They had to go long distances to find livestock to buy to start their farms off with.  And if all went well, in a few years they’d have a small herd and maybe be able to sell or trade some extra animals for money or something else they needed.  After doing this little farming thing for over a decade, and visiting many historical, pioneer sites, I have much more respect for the people that settled this land.

And I have more understanding of the elder Mr. Lincoln.

He had ONE son to help him.  With all that work, I can seriously understand why he wasn’t too keen on the boy leaving.  Especially now, after my THIRD boy has started to work part-time for ANOTHER farmer.

100_4849He’s 16 years old and can be really helpful around here.  When Keith isn’t home, he’s my right-hand man.  He’s almost as strong as his dad, so when I need to catch pigs to sell, which always happens on days when he’s at work – he’s the man.  He does most of the stall cleaning.  He hauls the water in buckets in the winter, through the snow, because the younger kids can’t.  He helps me dig holes when we have an animal to bury, fix fences, catch loose animals, etc., etc.

 

 

 

Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

I’ve been through it before.  He has 2 older brothers, both of whom started working outside the home at the same age.  Sixteen.  They get their driver’s licenses, then they start leaving me to fend for myself with all these little children who are still in training.  JUST when they are the most useful to me.  They start disappearing.  So I have to do more work myself, while working on training the younger ones to do the work he was doing.  And I let them keep the money they earn.

Keith says that’s what we had them for.  Raise them up to know how to work, take care of themselves, and go live their own lives and  be productive members of society.  Sure.  That’s true.

But, after starting to lose son #3, I’m starting to think that maybe Thomas Lincoln wasn’t as bad as I first thought.

Our Day

Here are a few pictures I’ve taken today.  Just a snippet of life around here.

This was the surprise that met me in the barn today.  Nightshade's first kid, Morning Glory

This was the surprise that met me in the barn today. Nightshade’s first kid, Morning Glory

I'm making 3 more lip balm flavors and needed more small, round baskets, which is why I went to the thrift store in the first place.

I’m making 3 more lip balm flavors and needed more small, round baskets, so I went to the thrift store. $1 for all three!

Others posted today on facebook about their asparagus.  So I went to check mine out - it's growing!

Others posted today on facebook about their asparagus. So I went to check mine out – it’s growing!

Not as many blooms as last year, but I'll take them anyway!

Forsythia – Not as many blooms as last year, but I’ll take them anyway!

 

I found this basket at a thrift store.  It's PERFECT for my table at farmer's markets!

I found this basket too – for $3. It’s PERFECT for my table at farmer’s market!

Small Acres – Part 4

The "Greenhouse"Basics of Transplant Production – Setting Up Your Greenhouse

The third session of the Putting Small Acres to Work brought us to this talk by Hans Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, in Atlanta, IL.  I was very impressed with how large Hans and his Wife, Katie, grew their small farm business in a relatively short period of time.  They plant between 7 and 9 acres of vegetables that they sell at a farmers market in Springfield.  One of my notes is “specialize in diversity.”  They don’t just grow carrots – they grow orange carrots, yellow carrots, purple carrots.  They grow beets in red, white, and orange.  And more.  Diversity!

The difference between a greenhouse and a high tunnel (see Part 1 of this series) is heat.  A high tunnel (or hoop house) relies on the heat that can be captured from the sun.  A greenhouse has an added heat source.   The greenhouse is used to get plants started.  When the greenhouse gets too full and the plants are larger, they move some into unheated hoop houses until it’s time to transplant them into the field.

So, here are my notes:

Set up.  You need to figure out how many transplants you want to make in a year.  You don’t want to outgrow the greenhouse too fast, or have too few transplants and waste money on heating a greenhouse that is too big.  You need to figure out how many plants will be in there at any one time.  This is where having hoop houses, too, comes in handy.  Different plants need to be started at different times.  You may be able to have a smaller greenhouse for starting some plants, and then move them into a hoop house when it’s time to start something else, but the first plants aren’t able to go outside into the field just yet.  What will your heat source be?  Propane, electric, etc.  And what is the greenhouse going to be covered in?  Plastic sheeting, polycarb, glass, or something else?

What’s important?  Have systems ready to go.  Have backup systems.  Plan, plan, backup, backup.  Keep records from year to year so you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Air circulation is very important to prevent disease and produce stronger plants.  They need some exposure to gentle wind to grow strong.   You can use fans, open doors, roll up the sides if you have plastic sheeting.  Air circulation also makes the temperature inside more constant and prevents hot and cold spots.

Effective use of heated space (to save money).  Use of a germination chamber  is more practical for starting seeds in the early months.  Heat mats with a thermostat are very helpful.  You can also hang a sheet of plastic from the ceiling of the greenhouse to create a germination chamber so you’ll need to heat only that small part of the greenhouse.  A bucket heater can be used to increase humidity and moderate the temperature.

Benches.  They use 2×4′s and sawhorses to set boards on to make benches.  They’ve obtained bread trays to put the soil blocks in and those trays sit on the benches.  He believes that building your own benches is best – cheaper and you make them the size you want them.  Plywood on the top can be used to add a flat work surface where you need it – and is easily moved to another area as you work.

They make their own soil blocks to put the seeds in.  Currently they buy a mixture from someone else, but they started by mixing their own.  It’s basically 3 parts peat, 2 parts compost, 2 parts perlite or vermiculite, 1 cup of sand, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and a dash of lime.  For germination, he uses 50-cell trays and places 7 seeds per cell.  Then I wrote, “heavy duty white plastic.”  I don’t remember why…  Is it for covering the trays to keep moisture in until germination occurs?  For seeds that are difficult to germinate, he sows them in 10×20 flats or broadcast sows them in a tray.  They use bottom heat to speed up germination time.  The plants are separated into one of three different sized soil blocks when the first true leaves appear.  Most go into 1 2/3″ blocks – chard, fennel, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, herbs, cabbage.  These are smaller plants and plants that need a shorter start time.  In 2″ blocks go tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucurbits, okra – larger plants, anything that will be in the greenhouse a longer time.  He doesn’t use 3″ blocks much, except for plants that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to plant very soon, and crops with a higher value.

To prepare the plants for the field you need to harden them off by exposing them to some wind, changing temps, and water stress.  Check for diseases.  It’s better to transplant a smaller, more vigorously growing plant than an older, stunted one.

Record keeping is crucial.  Use a field journal and then transfer that information to your computer.  Record your plans, at least what you want and how many you want in the greenhouse.  Record the germination dates, how many germinated of each variety.  That tells you what kinds do best and how many you need to restart to meet your goals.  Create a spreadsheet.  Make sure each tray is labeled clearly.  You’ll never remember all the details.

I appreciated hearing the details of greenhouse growing.  Some of the things he mentioned I wouldn’t have thought of.  He had pictures of his greenhouse, the plants, the soil, and blocking tools – which is good because I had no idea what he meant when he first talked about using a “blocker”.  There’s always new terminology to learn in this farming thing!  I don’t have a greenhouse, so I have no picture of one.  The picture above is our seed-starting table in our dining room last year.  So far this year we have only tiny cauliflower leaves and a lot of dirt.  Not a fun picture.

PrairiErth Farm is another place I’d love to visit one day.  If you live in or around Springfield, you could buy their produce from the farmers market they go to.  Check them out at their website:  www.prairierthfarm.com

Small Acres – Part 3

100_5324Cottage Food Operation

During the second session at the Putting Small Acres to Work workshop series, I went to the one about the IL Cottage Food Law.  About two years ago, I attended a talk about the new law, but I wanted to see if anything had changed and to be certain I fully understood it.  The session was presented by Wes King of the Illinois Steward Alliance, who helped get this law passed.

This was kind of a big deal in Illinois, because before January 1, 2012, there wasn’t a clear law in place.  People who had been selling preserves, breads, etc., at farmers markets for years were suddenly being shut down because it had technically never been legal.  It just hadn’t been enforced.  When farmers markets grew in popularity, some health inspectors realized what was happening and were shutting down small mom-and-pop businesses – cutting off some of their income.  This law was made to again make it legal for these people to earn an income by selling home-baked goods.

The foods that can be made to sell by a cottage food operation are: high-acid jams, jellies and preserves, high-acid fruit butters, and baked goods such as breads, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries.  Pies allowed are from high-acid fruits.  It may also sell dry herbs, dry herb blends, and dry tea blends intended for end-use consumption.  A cottage food operation may only sell products at a farmers market in Illinois and gross receipts from the sale of food allowed under the law may not exceed $25,000 in a single calendar year.

There are also specific labeling requirements – name and address, common name of the product, all ingredients listed in order of weight, date processed.  It also must state the following phrase:  “This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens.”  A placard with this statement must also be displayed prominently at the point of sale.  Allergen labeling as specified in federal labeling requirements is also required.

The operation must also have a Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.  The food does not need to be produced in a kitchen inspected and certified by the health department.  But, if you do have access to a certified kitchen you can produce any of the other foods that aren’t allowed by the Cottage Food Law.

I was glad that I attended this session because it gave me a better understanding of the work it took to get this law passed, and why some of the provisions are in place currently.  One of the parts of the law that is annoying to me is about being allowed to sell ONLY at farmers markets.  Wes explained that this law was meant to help create a stepping stone between a small at-home business and a full commercial business – which he said has been happening.  And THAT is exciting.  It allows people to start small, earn some money and save up to start a larger business, which benefits more than just the business owner.  If they allowed the items to be sold from the home, then it falls under the commercial business rules and it would all have to be produced in a commercial kitchen.  There are many people who hope this will change eventually, but it seems that these things always take a long time to change.

One of the people that sat in on this session mentioned that if a person wishes to build a commercial kitchen to NOT do it until you talk with the department of health FIRST.  It’s already an expensive job and if you do something wrong and it has to be fixed, it will cost even more.

Please, do NOT take this blog post as being comprehensive!  If you live in Illinois and wish to see if this is something you would like to do, you need more information!  Read the guidance document that the IDPH put together for local health departments to help them implement the law.  It is IDPH Technical Information Bulletin (TIB) #44.  This can be viewed by visiting the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Cottage Food Law page at http://www.ilstewards.org/content/12404.  More information is available at www.ilstewards.org by clicking on the “Policy Work” tab and looking at the resources there.  I also highly recommended building a relationship with your local/county health department early on so that you follow all the rules from the beginning to make it easier on yourself :)   If you live in another state, contact your local health department to see what laws are in place for a similar operation.

Small Acres – Part 2

IMG_2552This is part 2 of a 5 part series.

In the second breakout session of Putting Small Acres to Work, Keith and I split up.  I went to a session on the IL Cottage Food Law (which I’ll write about in part 3), while Keith attended Adapting to Changing Consumer Trends at Farmers’ Markets and Adding Value to Your Products.  When we got back together for the third session, he told me that he thinks I would have rather been in the workshop he was in.  Actually, the two made good companions and complemented each other perfectly – as did all the sessions we attended!

Back to the subject at hand… The session was presented by Matt & Debbie Daniels of Bear Creek Farm & Ranch, in Palmer, IL.  They’ve been on their farm for 17 years.  It has 45 acres and they raise everything naturally.  They started out like we did – raising a few (50) chickens for themselves and friends.  Then raising a few more and selling some at the farmer’s market.  They grew so much that one year they raised 4,000 chickens!  They also grow fresh produce to sell at market and a couple of stores.  They went on to say that at first they sold chicken in two forms: whole intact, or whole cut-up.  As time went on customers started asking for specific parts only, such as breasts or leg quarters.  That was a small market at first, but now about 80% of their chicken sales are parts and pieces.  This left them with the problem of what to do with the extra pieces no one wanted – backs and necks.  The only way they could sell those parts was to reduce the price so much that they would be losing money.  Their solution:  value added products.  They thought they could add value to those pieces by making them into chicken stock, cooked chicken meat, chicken salad and dog food.  This is where their story overlaps with the session I was in regarding the cottage food law.  It isn’t legal to make and sell these type of products in a home kitchen.  They decided to get a food managers license and build an on-farm certified kitchen in their garage.  This is an expensive – and extensive – project that they emphatically stated needs to be started by working with the county health department from the beginning!  If there is no way you can afford to build your own certified kitchen, you can get the food manager license and then look at finding a kitchen to rent.  Check with churches, community centers, or county extension offices.

The value added idea was expanded into other areas.  In addition to the broth and other chicken products, they could make pickles, dried herbs and peppers, butter from their milk.  These things have a longer shelf life and could extend their sales.  A head of lettuce could be sold as is, but when that lettuce was washed, cut and had other veggies added to make it a salad, they were able to sell it for a much higher price.  There are drawbacks to that – the time it takes to cut and prepare these foods, extra handling, packaging and storage.  But with some research they found that storage time could be extended by briefly soaking the veggies in a a solution of 1/2 oz of hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water (which is something I’ve read in other places).  Obviously, refrigeration would also be a key component into keeping cut veggies fresh, and freezers are needed to keep frozen things frozen.

For marketing their products, they sold at farmers’ markets and stores.  When selling these types of foods at a market, you need to check with each individual market to see what is legal to sell there.  I know that at some markets you can sell frozen chicken, eggs, etc., because they have electricity at the area.  Farmers who have freezers and coolers load them in their vehicles, or some have larger trucks with freezers/coolers permanently installed, and they can plug into the power source at the market.  The one I attend does not have this option, so those items are not allowed to be sold there.  Canned foods, dried foods, baked goods and fresh produce are all that are allowed.  When marketing to a store, you need to be able to consistently supply a high quality product.  Bear Creek Farm has a buy-back agreement with stores – whatever is left after a specified period of time, they will buy it back from the store.  This seems to apply mostly to fresh food, like sprouts.  This agreement allows them to command a higher price for their product because they are assuming the risk of loss of sale, not the store.  They also do home deliveries.

Other ideas for value added products that can be produced are cut flowers that are made into bouquets, pumpkins or gourds that are painted or carved, making wheat grass juice, using apples to make applesauce, apple juice or apple pie filling.  They also mentioned that they are planning on adding a greenhouse and high tunnel, which will extend the growing season.  They sat in on those same sessions that day, along with us.  (Part 1 of this series is on high tunnels, Part 4 will address greenhouses.)  A note that Keith wrote down is “texting and facebook with products available”.  I’m assuming that means they use these ways to notify existing customers of what is currently available.  Interestingly enough, using social media to promote your farm will be Part 5 of this series :)

On a side note, we got to chat with Matt & Debbie for about a half hour when the whole event was over and we’ve decided that at some point this summer we would like to drive down there and visit their farm – by appointment, of course.  To learn more about their farm and where you can buy their products, go to their website:  www.bearcreekfarmandranch.com.

Stay tuned – in a couple of days I’ll post about the IL Cottage Food Law.

 

 

 

Small Acres 1

The "Greenhouse"On March 23, Keith and I attended 4 workshops designed to help people with few acres make their farms more profitable.  It was called Putting Small Acres to Work and was put on by the U of I Extension at Lincoln Land Community College.  There were three breakout sessions, each with 3 workshop choices, and then a general session for everyone.  Because some have asked, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts on the workshops we attended.  This will not be comprehensive, but just general, and focus on what we learned and what we are thinking of doing with that information here on our farm.

The first workshop we attended was Growing Vegetables Year-Round, by Nathan Johanning of the U of I Extension.  The focus was on using high tunnels to extend the growing season.  A high tunnel is like a greenhouse, with the difference being that a high tunnel has no heat source other than the sun, whereas a greenhouse has some other additional heat source.  We also attended a workshop on using a greenhouse, but that will be post #4.  I apologize that I don’t have a photo of a high tunnel to put here, so I had to settle for one of our seeds that we started last year.  You can easily Google pictures of one online.  They are very similar to a greenhouse.

In the fall and winter we not only lose daylight, but the angle of the light is lower, which makes the sunlight much less effective than in the summer.  The goal of the high tunnel is to capture as much light as possible.  We want to capture the heat as well as the light as both are needed for plant growth.  The plants need to be planted early enough so that major growth will be finished by December and then the light and heat available should be sufficient for maintenance.  The plastic you use is also important.  Thicker plastic, or a double plastic wall will protect the plants from the temperature changes better, but also reduces the amount of light that can get it.  In addition, row covers are also generally used on the coldest nights, but need to be removed in the morning after the plants thaw so they can receive the light.  They then need to be replaced in mid to late afternoon to trap heat before the temperature drops too much.

The types of plants you choose is important.  As much as I might want tomatoes in mid-winter, they are a poor choice.  Cold-hardy crops need to be used.  Cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are good, as are greens like spinach, kale, chard, lettuce.  Root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and radishes work.  So do leeks and green onions.  You can look at seed catalogs for descriptions to see which are best in colder temps.  You will also need to do some experimenting on your own to see what works best for you – be sure to keep notes because you’ll probably forget a lot of what you’ve done.

Besides what type of plants to grow, you need to figure out when to plant them, to get the majority of the growth finished before the daylight gets too low.  This is where the surprise was for me.  We have to plant much earlier than I thought we would in order for certain plants to do well.  Here in central IL, things like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower would need to be started in mid-July.  Beets, lettuce and turnips need to be started by August 1.  Fall spinach and kale in mid- to late-August, and spring spinach the first week in September.  I mistakenly thought we’d be planting everything in Sept or October.   Our thought was to put up a high tunnel in the fall over our existing garden, but that isn’t going to work, since our summer crops will just be getting into their prime producing season.  Now I’m wondering where to put one.  Maybe in front of the garden between the driveways?  The bigger issue there is that it’s more open to the wind, which can be quite nasty here.  We’ll have to think on it more.

Other details on planting and caring for the plants is that the seeds should be planted deeper than in the spring, as well as closer together.  Direct-seeded crops may be more cold tolerant than transplants.  Watering is important, but when it’s colder, the plants won’t need as much as in the summer since the crops grow more slowly and it’s more humid inside the high tunnel.  Drip tape is useful until it starts getting below freezing.  Watering in midday is best when the night is going to be a little more mild to prevent freezing of the crops.  Ventilation, when possible, is also important to prevent mildew.  Harvesting should also be at midday.  Be careful to not harvest more than 40% of the leaf area at any one time.

I don’t know if we’ll get a hoop house this year.  Another option is low tunnels.  They are cheaper, though more difficult to manage since you can’t just walk into the building and shut the door.  But we may try one little row of broccoli, lettuce, and spinach and see how it goes.  Having fresh greens in the winter would be nice.  Any maybe we will actually have broccoli without worms :)