Digest of weekly CSA Newsletters

July 25 newsletter

Like I mentioned before, it was a long day and hot and humid.  The day started early with harvesting cucumbers. The earlier part of the week as cool. On Wednesday we didn’t even break 70°. The cucumbers were used to the warmer weather and slowed down a lot. Wednesday finally warmed up in the afternoon  and by Thursday morning there a bunch that were almost ready but not quite. It turned out that they had be be harvested Friday morning before deliveries. Not my favorite way to do things but if we miss an order we never get a chance to make it up.

And then there were deliveries that were uneventful, which is good. There was quite a bit of discussion at the Wedge about Red Shiso. How it should be packed, how much anyone would use, how to label and price it. Good stuff.

It was genuinely hot when I got home so after lunch I replaced the gas tank on a Mantis tiller and found a few other jobs to do in the shade.  It hadn’t really cooled off much but the weather forecast shifted, and frankly, they have been wrong about us getting any rain quite often, so I started to water all the onions, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers and other small stuff.  Plants that are only an inch tall only have a root that is an inch long. A few days of 90° weather will dry out the top 2” of soil.

Each line of sprinklers runs for an hour and puts down about an inch of water over a quarter acre (~12,000 square feet). Then the water is switched to the next line.  Sometimes it is possible to connect the next line of sprinklers without turning off the pump. It saves a lot of time walking back and forth. Sometimes I get soaked.  On a day like yesterday , it was not a bad option.

While the first sprinkler line was running I finished moving the rest of the lines and continued seeding some of the fall veggies like, carrots, spinach, beets, chard, and winter radishes. I also had time to seed another round of arugula, greens and radishes.  The  greens and radishes will get seeded every week ( well, should get seeded every week) until late August. If the timing works out and the weather cooperates the days will get short and cool enough to hold the last planting for weeks before it runs out or it gets so cold that it ruins everything. There is still some planting to do but I probably won’t get back to it until Tuesday.

Yesterday morning while I was doing deliveries Logan and Carmen came over and weeded between the plants in the rows of winter squash. Since Mary has taken the lead on weeding the fields have never looked so good.  Which is not to say there aren’t still a lot of weeds to deal with.

Our regular crop mobs have been put on hold for this summer and the weeds have been loving the recent rain and hot weather. The crop mobs were a huge help in getting some of the big jobs done.  I’ll have to check our schedule but I’m thinking that next Saturday would be a good day to put the call out for help and see if we can’t muster a crew to tackle some weeding and mulching on a grand scale.  If there is a chance that you could help out, let me know.

Other things that happened this week was that a couple acres of millet got planted. I also planted a little buckwheat that will mostly be used for seed next year but some of it will get hulled for buckwheat groats. Now, if it would just rain, they would come up.

We had just over 0.4” of rain on last Saturday and again on Tuesday, it was just about perfect. But everything needs an inch of water every week and after these past couple of hot days everything is needing a drink. If we don’t get any rain tonight I’ll have to start watering the tomatoes, corn beans, winter squash, potatoes and peppers. That will eat up most of two days moving the big impact sprinkler through the field.

That’s enough for tonight.



July 17th veggie list

Now it is hot but this week was cool, actually about normal.  Surprising how chilly 55° can feel. It was great.  We only got0.06” of rain out of all the forecast rain this week. Soil moisture is adequate but the small seeded veggies and onions needed water. Tonight the NWS is predicting rain  and more for tomorrow night.

Since we have been doing wholesale orders  we are spending a few morning harvesting and delivering orders, and the rest of the time trying to keep up with .planting and weeding. This week I plowed up a couple acres for millet. Millet is an ancient grain that grows quickly during summer. It does not compete with weeds very well so late tillage and planting are typical. I’m hoping that we get some rain that will encourage the weed seed bank to germinate. Then I’ll run them over with the disk and come right back with the millet.

Logan and I set out the fall cabbage, broccoli and kale. We even put out a little fall lettuce.  Since the rain never materialized I included them in the watering rotation. The next round of direct seeded greens and radishes, and all the fall stuff like carrots, beets, spinach,  chard are due to be planted but there is a big blob of rain that stretches from Detroit Lakes back into central North Dakota.  The forecast is for heavy rain. With the soil being so dry a heavy rain will pack the surface into a hard layer. The smallest and wimpy seeds will have a hard time breaking through that crust. Depending on how much rain e do or don’t get, I’m planning to get that stuff planted on Sunday afternoon.

You know my complaints about the lack of small scale processing infrastructure.  Well, there were a couple small corn shellers and a hammer mill laying in the ditch along old Hwy 12 in Long Lake.  The newer ( ~1940s ) sheller and the hammer mill are still functional. The older, smaller corn sheller needs a lot of work, but probably less effort than building one from scratch.  I’m thinking that it could be run slow and used to thresh dry beans.  I’m really excited to have come across these machines. Best part was that there was a cyclone separator with the new sheller. I think it will be just the thing for cleaning the hulls out of the millet.

Repair of the week – I brazed up the broken corners on the upper  sieve for my Massey Harris 60 Pull Type combine. It was probably shoddy workmanship. The combine isn’t even 70 years old.  This is the same machine that got a rebuilt engine a few years ago. The next big jobs for it are combining the winter wheat and rye.  After that I’m going to try it on yellow blossom sweet clover. Later this fall I’ll run the millet through it.


July 10th veggie list

It has been hot. This morning it felt like fall. The temperature was only 60° this morning, just a little warmer than average.  It has been hot. On Wednesday we got ¾” of rain out of a partly cloudy forecast. It was great. We have not been doing a lot of watering this week either.

The shell peas went by before we picked any. We picked some anyway to shell and put in the freezer. Many thanks to the coops and restaurants who bought up all the lettuce before it bolted.  I was afraid that we would lose it but harvested almost all of it. As you might guess we started up doing wholesale  again this week.

We have moved on from performing insecticide by hand  on the Colorado potato bugs to chemical warfare. Squishing the adults by hand is time consuming but if we can get most of the overwintering bugs the 1st and 2nd generations are much smaller. Each female CPB can lay 4-500 eggs and they go from eggs to adults in as little as 21 days. Left alone each overwintering female will produce 125 million offspring, a few more than we really need.

We have been squashing all the adults and eggs we found for weeks. Now the eggs have started to hatch there are a kazillion CPB grubs eating the plants down to the stems. The grubs are really gross to squash by hand.  Neem oil works on the CPB grubs when they are small. It is an extract of the neem tree from India. It makes the grubs sick and slows down their feeding and keeps them from molting. It is OMRI approved for organic systems and can be sprayed the day of harvest, which means that it is relatively safe for us. Nothing else but leafhoppers  eat potato plants so it is pretty well targeted on CPB. It degrades in sunlight so we have been spraying in the afternoon to give it time to work before it becomes ineffective.

Even though Brian at Ames Farm didn’t bring any bee hives over this spring (he said there is a shortage of honey bees this year)  we have loads of native bees in the arugula and mustards that are going to seed. I’m sure they were in the yellow blossom sweet clover earlier.

June 26, 2020

This week I have spent a lot of time watering. We have been forecast to get rain every few days but it fizzles out before it gets to us.  Some of the direct seeded stuff has needed to be watered so it would come up but just to be contrary, the carrots came up great after just getting rained on once a week ago.

The neighbor Norman turned 83 on Tuesday and stopped by to start cutting the hay. He finished up on Wednesday morning and by Thursday  night all the hay was all baled up and out of the field.  We kept some of it for mulching the tomatoes. They will feed the rest to their herd of 80 dairy cows. Norman is ‘retired’ now so his sons do the milking and chores. He sticks to tractor work.


June 19, 2020

What a nice rain. We really needed it. Even the weeds were starting to wilt. There is something so different about rain. You can water all you want but it is just not the same. Everything looks great this morning.  Today we are going to stick in a few last chance peppers and tomatoes and switch over from planting to cultivating. Except for the late season broccoli and such.

Lettuce, peas, mustard greens, kale,  radishes, beans, corn meal. Chickens.

Order by Saturday night for Sunday afternoon pickup.

We have :Mizuna, Mild or spicy mustard greens, The most perfect French breakfast  radishes. White salad turnips, Curly green kale, Mixed lettuce. All of the above are full size, i.e. bunched except for the lettuce, which is small heads. Bunches are $2.50 each and the lettuce is $2 for a half pound, $3 for a pound.

Snow peas ( the flat ones ) $1.50 per pound if you pick, $5 if we pick them.

We also have a couple kinds of dry beans available – Black Turtle and Peregion. The beans are $4 per pound and you will have to sort them.

Cornmeal – Reid’s Yellow Dent $5 per pound

Rhubarb $3 per pound

Eggs – contact Will (cc’d above or you can call or text 612-423-9872) directly for eggs to see if they should be washed or not.  $5 per dozen

Arugula will be back next week. It is either too small or bolting.  We have been eating the bolting stuff. It is a little spicy but that never stopped us.

Mizuna and mustard greens add a nice contrast to the lettuce in salads. And the mustard greens are great steamed.

The FB radishes are the size my little finger and simply perfect. Best eaten for second breakfast – good bread and butter and a  glass of red wine, a farm crew favorite.

Salad turnips are okay in salads if you don’t have radishes but they are the best cooked.  Think of them as a different kind of potato.  Fried sliced turnips with a tiny bit of bacon and peas for breakfast or as a side dish. The greens are tender enough to eat in salad but are delicious  sautéed with bacon and eaten with warm cornbread.

The curly green kale is our own hybrid. It is a mix of the best tasting varieties from the kale trial a couple years ago. It seems very tender right now and makes a great kale Caesar salad.

It is finally springtime in Minnesota ! Peas are ready.  The peas in the snow peas have barely started to size up yet so they are mostly just the pods but they still taste wonderful.

The dry beans were harvested last fall and will cook in about 45 minutes to an hour, without soaking.

The cornmeal is Reid’s Yellow Dent, an heirloom variety. It tastes good but is very low test weight, i.e. there is a lot of fluff that sifts out. This year I’m growing an orange corn that was so sweet that the damn raccoons ate it like sweet corn last year.

Since it has turned to spring, it is time for rhubarb everything. Rhubarb sauce for ice cream. Strawberry rhubarb pie. Mary made some yummy rhubarb lemon bars and rhubarb shrub, a refreshing drink with tonic water. This is an old green variety, the stalks are much larger than most red varieties.

Eggs – contact Will directly for some of the most beautiful, best tasting eggs.

Chicken. Bravinders ( the people who run Dan and Becky’s Market) are doing meat chickens again this year. There are still birds available for July, August, and a few for September pickup.  Contact Alyssa at 612-710-6490 for more information and to order. Acting sooner rather than later is a good idea.

The next week or so is the time to make milkweed capers. You use the milkweed flower buds and when pickled they taste remarkably like the capers you buy. Part of the process is to snip the buds from the stems and I found that it is easiest to use the larger buds.  The buds shouldn’t be opening but the little stems are longer.  As long as you leave two clusters on each milkweed stem, there will be plenty of flowers for the bugs.  Here’s Mary Jane’s recipe –

Brine for milkweed capers

2 cups water

1 cup apple cider vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)

3/4 cup sugar

scant 2 Tbsp salt

2 small dried red chiles, seeds removed and torn (or leave the seeds in if you want more heat)–optional

1 tsp black peppercorns

And of course you could add other flavors, garlic, herbs, etc.

Toss the milkweed buds with salt and let stand at room temperature overnight.  The next day, rinse and drain.  Pack into a jar(s).

In a small saucepan, combine the brine ingredients.  Pour the hot brine over the buds, making sure some bits of chile and pepper get into each jar.  (a garlic clove and bit of tarragon are nice additions).  Refrigerate and use as you would capers.

I starter with 3 cups of buds and was careful to wash out all the bugs. The pH of the brine measured between 3 and 4, acidic enough to be water bath canned and stored at room temperature.  I’ll check it again after the buds steep a while. If you don’t have milkweed we have tons but you will have to ick your own buds.

Mary Jane and Michael are moving back to Iowa. We will miss them.

The Sunday afternoon pickup works okay on this end but does it work for you ?

Thanks for buying our produce.


Early Summer Newsletter

June 9, 2020

Riverbend Farm Early Summer Newsletter

As I noted last time, the season turned weird early and now it seems to be going from strength to strength.  First it was the C19 virus, restaurants being closed, panic buying,  the economic fallout , and now demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

It is incredibly wrong that a black man can be killed by the Minneapolis police for an alleged  $20 crime. How is that even possible in a civil society ?  Just try to imagine the attitude that underlies that act. This really happened in America. Have we been fooling ourselves about what kind of country we live in ? This whole thing has made for lots of questions.

It is going to take a lot more than reformatting the MPD to solve the underlying problems. I’m not sure what I would say to my brother that would change his mind. And there seem to be lots of people like him, prejudiced, fearful, easily buffaloed by crazy conspiracy theories, and absolutely convinced that they are right. This for example – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jun/10/fox-news-sesame-street-elmo-tucker-carlson   How do we make a difference ?

Back at the farm, things are mostly the same for us. The closest I came to anything was when I dropped off plants at the Wedge last Friday morning and saw that everything was boarded up.  Friends who live in Minneapolis were worried about their business, had helicopters flying overhead all night, witnessed the protests and destruction of neighborhood stores. The old normal seems to have been upended if not swept away. . That the weather has been generally cool and dry pales by comparison.

When I started writing this on June 2, it was raining a little. A little cool front came through and squeezed a few thundershowers out of the hot humid air. Saturday night we had maybe a third of an inch. Monday and Tuesday’s rain has only amounted to 0.02”  This spring has been generally dry for us but it looks like Featherstone might have gotten dumped on last night.

The temperatures have been all over the map. May 29th it was 40° in the morning. By June 2nd  it was in the mid 90s. The swings in temperature fool a lot of the annuals into thinking it is fall. Mary was experimenting with transplanting beets and spinach for early crops but the spinach mostly went directly to seed.  Monday and Tuesday were windy and hot. This morning it was in the 50’s again, about average for this time of year but a sweatshirt felt pretty good. .

So far the season has been a blur. It started in mid March and has not let up since. Mary and I were going as fast as we could trying to keep up with the demand for garden starter plants since the middle of March.  It was completely crazy. We have sold three times as many plants as we did last year. That is really an accomplishment for us considering that most of the starter plants are scheduled to be seeded in the greenhouse by early March. We did a lot of the work ourselves since we had no way of telling what the future would bring and didn’t want to spend money we weren’t going to have. Our neighbors Carmen and Will ( different neighbors) and friends Mette, Ian and Greg helped with getting things repotted.

We have had a lot of help from friends and family. Our daughter Jeri, her friend Lori, Mark, Mette, Greg,  Ian, Mike and Jack, neighbors Will and Carmen, Logan  have all pitched in to do anything that needed doing. . Seward, Wedge, Birchwood, Common Roots, and Nature’s Nest have all helped  to get plants sold.   We wouldn’t have been able to get this far without all their help.

The warm weather in late March melted all the snow and I was able to plant peas on April 2nd.  Those peas have since been snowed on and frozen hard enough to turn the leaves yellow. After all that they are starting to flower.  Carrots planted on the 15th came up pretty well, have been hand weeded once (thanks Mary and Jeri) and are looking good.

Potatoes are coming up and we have been squashing potatoes bugs.  The numbers of potato bugs  in the eggplant (both nightshades) are down but in the potatoes they are laying eggs. Killing off  the over wintered bugs makes a huge difference in the number of bugs in the 2nd generation. Potato bugs lay 4-500 hundred eggs and they go from eggs to adults in about 3 weeks. Talk about a pest. The only thing that I have seen eat them are assassin bugs.

Lettuce is almost ready. The first planting of arugula is going to seed. The second and third look good, still very flea beetle eaten but the holes don’t taste like anything. Radishes are spicy. Mustard greens are coming along nicely. The transplanted zukes and cukes looked kind of sad but they have bounced back.  Direct seeded zukes and cukes are up and doing well. They need water after the past few windy hot days. The RBF curly green kale is starting to grow. It looks like it doubled in size in the past few days. I’m guessing that Kale Cesar Salad is in out near future.

The big plant sales have made for a great start to our season. Getting all them potted. Labeled and delivered has taken a bit a toll of our field work and planting. Right now I’m juggling plowing, planting direct seeded crops, transplanting peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, and keeping up on everything else that needs to be done.  Like rebuilding the carb on the H ( leaky float needle ), getting the transplanter ready ( grease, oil, adjust, clean out the water system), cultivating, and watering. Plow, disk, plant, Repeat. We are making progress on field planting.  We will get it done.

With so many restaurants being closed or operating at reduced capacity we are still hoping to sell to them but have not had time to get back and talk to them about what they expect the summer to look like.

We are also planning to expand our Custom CSA but have not had a moment to think about what it will be like.  The model we had last year was to put out a list of produce that is available and take orders for ’delivery’ in two days. Everything was picked up at the farm. It wasn’t perfect. Orders were harvested with the wholesale orders and packed at the end of the night. A problem is that when there are a lot of regular orders the CSA gets packed around midnight.

We are also trying to work through some of safety issues. With the Custom CSA, each box is different and at a remote site  someone else may handle your box to get theirs. The information about spread of C19 from surfaces is contradictory right now and food has not been found to be a source of contamination. But I would hate for anyone to pick up C19 from the boxes. Reusing the boxes may be another issue but we could quarantine them for a week or something.

One of the questions we have is what will the demand be for staples for storage this fall. We have done various grains, dry beans, corn meal, potatoes, big boxes of tomatoes for home canning, cooking, freezing, etc. Will that increase with all the uncertainty this year ? They could be a welcome addition to this winter’s dinner table.  Asking how much an increase to expect seems beyond the pale.

Trouble is that we are so busy and pooped by the end of the day we are not making a lot of progress resolving these issues.  If you have any ideas, please send them my way.

Summer is comin’.




Spring 2020

Riverbend Farm Spring Newsletter                                                          March 21, 2020

This year has turned weird early. The strangeness comes from a virus.  A very contagious and, for some, deadly virus.  Restaurants are closed. Grocery stores are getting swamped with panic buying. People are told to stay home, wash their hands  and quit hoarding toilet paper. With virtually no testing and no information available on how widespread the disease is there is only a lot of uncertainty.  Hopefully there is still time to get ahead of the pandemic so half a million people don’t die.

The past few years have been odd for a variety of reasons, mostly weather related. This winter has been easy, relatively warm and dry. All of our snow has disappeared.  Lows still get down into the teens but we have had significant runs of days in the 40s. I am sure all of that is not an indication of the coming season.

What do we do this coming year ? Prepare for a ‘normal’ season ? Cut our losses and look for jobs in a locked down economy ? Restaurants and the coops are a big part of our business and they both operate on very thin margins, same as farms for that matter. Hopefully this situation clears up quickly. Any shut shutdown is hard. A months long closure will put a lot of places out of business.  Maybe to- go groceries and  take out fine dining will become a thing.  For now we are going with business as usual.

The greenhouse is starting to fill up with tiny seedlings.  Peppers are up and tomatoes that were seeded three days ago are coming up. Flowers and herbs are at the point of being repotted. Once repotting starts the greenhouse fills up very quickly.

This is inside a low tunnel inside the greenhouse. It keeps the little plants 20° warmer on chilly nights/ In the morning I roll up the cover and let the sun shine on the plants during the day.

Winter came on suddenly  last year and I never had potting mix delivered before it snowed. The fall was so wet that driving a loaded truck back to the greenhouses would have made a huge mess even if it didn’t get stuck.  This year I am trying out Mississippi Topsoil’s  potting mix.  They are much closer than Cowsmo and I can get 3 yards in my pickup.  The mix has been working fine so far.

Mary and I are still planning on doing plant sales. If everything goes really sideways people will want to have a garden. The number of varieties will be pared down a little. Fewer eggplant, kale and green heirloom tomatoes. We will still have lots of flowers and a little bigger selection of herbs and medicinal plants.

\I just heard that the Friends Plant Sale has been canceled along with another big one,  Usually we do a sale in the Birchwood parking lot but maybe this year we will have to do something like online orders and figure out some kind of drop off / pick up option.

The custom CSA that we have tried out for the past year has worked pretty well. One difficulty has been getting the orders assembled on the same day that they are harvested. One problem on this end came from packing them alongside the regular orders. Busy harvest days make for late night. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a way around that.

One thing that we are thinking, with all the uncertainty, is to expand our Custom CSA to more people. And maybe even work out a way so everyone doesn’t have to come to the farm. I would miss the chance to talk to everyone who picks up produce.

If you have any good ideas about any of this please let me know. Stay well and WASH your hands.


Winter 2020

Riverbend Farm Early Winter Newsletter                                                January, 2020

The season has turned around to winter again.  It’s cold. There is snow. The days are getting noticeably  longer.  There is time to catch up on projects and sit by the fire in the evening. The neighbor has been seeing as many as six otter at a time on the river. There had been open water up until late last week. The woodpeckers are eating about half a pound of suet per day and the blue jays can not figure out how to land on the feeder. They have been imitating humming birds to try to get the suet.

It was a busy late fall and early winter after a doubly unusual year.

The season started out with a contractor who was  prepping a  soybean field across the road drifting herbicide into our greenhouses in mid May. It was way too windy to be spraying. The herbicide blew 175 feet from the intended target, through a windbreak, across the road, past our brushy fence line, and another 60 feet into our greenhouses. A week later Mary started noticing yellow spots on a lt of the leaves and the melons and zucchini were all wilted.

Of course I called Jerry Untiedt ( he rents the land across the road), the Minnesota Dept of Agriculture and MISA, our organic certifier to report the problem. Jerry was very sympathetic since his neighbor had drifted dicamba into a pumpkin field. Jerry lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pumpkins. The MDA and MOSA came and took samples and wrote reports. By now it was late May.

The herbicide test results didn’t come back until  mid June. Our organic certifier decided that even though there weren’t any measurable chemical residues, all our plants were conventional. Under the organic rules annual transplants have to be organically produced to have the crop certified organic. That meant no certified organic peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, etc. Everything had long since been transplanted by then.

Sales of high value produce to the coops is a big part of our business. They don’t offer conventional peppers and tomatoes alongside  local organic. Without that market there would not be enough income in August and September to cash flow hiring a big crew for the season. We have always done lots of bunched radishes, arugula, and other greens.  Unless those crops are perfect and the crew is fast it is very hard to make any money with them. Consequently I didn’t hire much help last season. It wasn’t the worst year ever but in hindsight I should have thrown out 80% of the transplants in May.

It has been really wet all year. For most of the summer and fall the river stayed as high as it was in the spring. We routinely got 1½ to 2” of rain  every week and sometimes more. As you know, we have fairly sandy soil and there were places I could not go in the middle of June without seeing water in the front wheel track. This fall I was driving a on a field road with a load of pumpkins and got stuck. It was wet.

In addition to the wetness it was cool. The summer months that were above average in temperature had warm night time temperatures but there was not a lot of heat during the day. We came up short on growing degree days and that affected the maturity of all the heat loving crops.  Our neighbor’s corn never matured to the point where the shanks of the ears dried up and drooped. The ears continued to point up and filled with the fall rain, leading to a lot of rotten corn.

Tomatoes didn’t seem to mind except for the cherry tomatoes. Most of them were really flavorless. Beefsteaks and heirlooms did well but lacked a little too, tasting a bit like greenhouse tomatoes.   Heirloom paste tomatoes continued to shine in the so-so weather . The hybrids were smaller than usual.  It was an off year for tomatoes going to the schools so I think I’m going to quit doing that.

A  brand new thing that was interesting was trying to grow millet. Nobody in the seed industry knows anything about millet for baking so I tried a couple different types. The Proso was a lot larger seed than the Foxtail but the Foxtail had a lot fewer weed problems.

The real issue with millet specifically and local small grains in general is that there is no  infrastructure for cleaning them. I can get a semi load cleaned but a 50 bushels ( ~2500 pounds) is a problem.. Millet, oats, barley, and to some degree wheat, need to be hulled.  I have worked out how to do it but the process needs a little more work. It can’t involve me wielding a one quart scoop  There are a lot of scoops in 50 bushels.

Winter squash was kind of a bust this year. The zucchini didn’t do anything either. The problem was there weren’t any female flowers. There was an early first flush and that was it. I heard from several farms and gardeners who saw the same thing. The problem wet from rural to urban. One of Mette’s neighbors in Minneapolis had beautiful squash vines, but just male flowers. On the other hand pumpkins and cucumbers did fine.

Climate change is making a shambles of my 4 year crop rotation. The loopy jet stream looks like it is settling into a pattern of high pressure in the Gulf of Alaska causing a hot dry ridge along the west coast, amplifying warming in Alaska and burning up California.  Downstream from the west coast ridge, a trough of cool weather sets up east of the Rockies. That brings us Canadian Arctic air, keeping our summer relatively cool and  truncating the slow slide into winter that we have been used to.

At the end of the season I went from getting peppers out of the field to digging potatoes to blowing out water lines.  Our fall was compressed into about 10 days. Our last crop mob took advantage of a few dry days and we pulled all the dry beans. Dry is a relative term, the beans went from the field to the greenhouse so they could dry enough to thresh and store.

The month of 20-30° below normal temperatures that we had starting in mid October eliminated the chance to do any field work after the warm season vegetables are harvested and it was so cold that it kills fall broccoli, kale, and cabbage. It got so cold so quickly that the ground froze early. After a week of frozen soil it warmed up for a few days. I was able to get my fall plowing done and plant winter rye cover crops. In the areas shaded by the trees in the fence line I was turning up six inch thick chucks of frost.  It was too cold for the rye to emerge in the fall. I’m hoping to see it sprout next spring.

Repair of the week.  The 2000 Subaru Forrester that Gabe and Bri left In our yard a few years ago needed a timing belt, head gaskets and a rear wheel bearing. The cost of the repair exceeded the value of the car so it stayed here. Those repairs went okay but I only drove it for a few months until it spun a rod bearing.  It still ran. The spun bearing must have blocked the oil way in the crankshaft and kept the oil going to the rest of the engine.

One ice storm last winter Margaret’s daughter rolled her 2001 Forrester and that engine now sits in the 2000. I’m still chasing various and seemingly random Diagnostic Trouble Codes  and struggling with the alarm. The online Subaru guys say that the cars are fussy about seeing the same sensors. Using the original the intake manifold and throttle body takes care of most of that but clearly not all. The alarm has this annoying feature of disabling the car when the battery is disconnected and locking all the doors. At this point I’m just taking short trips with it to see that it is a reliable driver..

Early Summer 2019 Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Early Summer 2019 Newsletter


Mary and I have had a busy and productive spring.  Plant sales were phenomenal. I think that we sold nearly twice as many plants as compared to last year, a very welcome boost to early cash flow. It also meant that April and May were a blur of seeding, potting up, repotting and delivering plants.  We ran out of 3½ inch pots, potting soil, plant labels, and even plants. It was great. Many thanks to everyone who got plants from us.

As the sales of starter plants were wrapping up we switched over to transplanting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, direct seeding cucumber, zucchini, and winter squash. We are pretty well caught up on transplanting and have made good progress mulching tomatoes. The wet weather has delayed some cultivating and the weeds are trying to take advantage of that.

Part of the reason that we are keeping up so well is that we are not growing any early greens and radishes.  Bunched greens are very labor intensive and can take up all or part of four days each week, not leaving a lot of time for everything else. We have been making the most of the crop mobs, friends and family to get things done. It makes a lot of difference when it is time to plant, mulch and stake 4500 tomatoes.


Earlier this spring we were drifted on by the contractor spraying the neighbor’s field. They were spraying RoundUp, Outlook and Verdict, burndown and preemerge herbicides.  It took several days to notice any damage. Mary spotted it first on some zinnias and wondered if there was a bug attacking them. Then we started seeing spots on a lot of different plants. The melons and cucumbers fared worst of all, they wilted down right away.

Looking back we figured that it probably happened a week before when they were doing field work across the street. It was just before a rain, the wind was out of the east, and the chemical smell was very strong. There is a windbreak at the edge of the neighbor’s field, the road, and the greenhouses are set back about 65’ from the fence, roughly 135 feet from when the spraying should have stopped. It was simply too windy to spray, the operator should have known better.

I called the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, our certifier and the guy who runs the land across the street. The person who answered the phone at the MDA was a lot less than helpful but finally decided that they would have to send an inspector.  MOSA had an inspector here in a couple days after being notified. Both the MDA and MOSA took samples to check for herbicide residues.  The MDA’s results didn’t find any contamination but their resolution is not very good, only 1 part in 20,000 for glyphosate (50 parts per million). Glyphosate is usually diluted 200:1 so the chances of them ever being able to detect it are slim. It is not uncommon for labs that test for pesticide residue to find glyphosate down to 10 parts per billion.

MOSA sent us a Final Determination Letter saying that none of the plants in the greenhouses could be considered organic and since we have to use organic transplants, none of the crops produced from those transplants could be certified as organic. Their reasoning was that even though not all the plants showed damage, they had been exposed to prohibited chemicals. There wasn’t time to grow new plants so rather than destroy them we planted them. The penalty is a one year decertification but it doesn’t look like we have a lot of options.

Just yesterday I talked to  MOSA about their residue samples and they said that the levels were detectable but so low that they could have been environmental background levels.  But since I had reported what looked like drift they were decertifying the transplants anyway. It seems a little odd but they had just been called out for certifying hydroponic operations so maybe it is time to stand up for organic integrity now.

The long and the short of it is that while we will have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant available this year they won’t be certified organic.  All of our direct seeded crops will be certified organic.


Labor is still hard to find. I know that you are all shocked to hear this but it is true.  After today my crew dried up for most of the summer. It was great to have them to help with transplanting and getting a good start on mulching tomatoes. We would be scrambling if we were still trying to do bunched greens and radishes on a big scale. We have had a lot of help from crop mobs and friends who have reached out with a helping hand. There is another crop mob this Saturday.

Farming is not unskilled work. Even jobs like mulching and hoeing take a fair amount of practice to be fast, accurate and effective. Going beyond straight forward hand tools, it is virtually impossible to find someone who can drive a tractor. There aren’t many farm kids anymore and lots of people can’t drive a manual transmission. Even if they can operate a clutch smoothly it is very unrealistic to think that someone who has just climbed up on a tractor for the first time is going to be able to cultivate or even disk without getting stuck or worse.


I’m still working out the preorder replacement for our CSA. Without greens and radishes there is not a lot to offer right now. We will have peas next week if the heat this weekend doesn’t burn them all up. It is raining now but I’m going to move some irrigation over there so I can water them when it is 90º.  There will also be some turnips, basil, cornmeal, dry beans, rhubarb, etc. Sort of like a CSA box at this time of year but it will be ‘ala carte’.

I will send out a list of things that we have available. Prices will vary depending on how much you buy. For example, half a pound of peas will cost you more than 10 pounds on a per pound basis. If the peas make it there might also be a pick your own option at a reduced price.  Let me know if you are interested on being on the email list for this.

Our wholesale business will look a lot like last year but without the bunched items.

Repair of the week

One of the drive ratchets on the hayloader broke. Our hayloader is a prewar (certainly WW II, not likely WW I) piece of equipment that was used to make hay before balers were invented in the 1930s. Before that, hay was collected loose and made into haystacks or piled in the barn.

The camshaft that lifts the pawl in the drive ratchet broke. When the cam lifts the pawl the wheels turn freely so the machine can be moved from field to field. When the pawl is engaged and the ratchet is locked up the turning wheels drive the mechanism that rakes up the hay and pushes it up the elevator.  It wasn’t possible to just reweld the shaft because it broke inside the hub casting.

I roughed out a new camshaft out of a piece of 1 ¼” X 3/8” bar stock with a portable bandsaw and finished it on a lathe. It made me wish for a four jaw chuck for my lathe so it could hold rectangular pieces of stock. The lever that turns the cam presented its own problems due to the need for a 5/32” X 5/16” rectangular slot to attach it to the camshaft. Both pieces were assembled into the hub and riveted together.

Next project – a fluidized bed to separate unthreshed oats from hullless oats.  If anyone has experience with fluidized beds, let me know. I need to separate the less dense but larger unthreshed kernels from the denser and smaller grain. The particles have roughly the same aerodynamic size making any winnowing process less than 100% effective.


Crop mob on Saturday. Sign up through the Birchwood. Info is under Events on the Community page. Signing up lets them get an accurate count for lunch. We will be mulching tomatoes. Thanks.



Late Winter 2019 Newsletter

Riverbend Farm Late Winter Newsletter February 20, 2019

Snow. Plenty of snow. I looks great and we have not run out of places to pile it, yet. And more to come but I’ll take snow over rain any day in the winter. The days are getting longer faster now. Soon we will be out of the woods as far as really cold temperatures are concerned but the record low for today is still -20°F.

We feed the birds and even heat the bird bath so they can get a drink. After a cardinal got in and actually took a bath on a subzero morning I covered it with pine branches. Now the birds can get a drink but it is much less likely that we will find them frozen to a branch. There is a pileated woodpecker that is a regular visitor to the suet feeder. They are amazing. It is nearly has big as a small chicken.

It has been a busy winter for mechanical projects. Our daughter Jeri has her car (’92 Volvo 240) over here for the winter. It needed an exhaust pipe, fuel filter, water pump, and the odometer repaired. My brother brought his ’68 BSA Victor (B44) over to get it rideable and presentable. And I have been working at replacing the aftermarket Weber carburetor on my ’67 Volvo 120 with stock dual SU carbs. I’m also planning to add a third, high mounted brake light to supplement the two small taillights.

Mary has been burrowed in by the fire working crossword puzzles, reading, working a embroidery / quilting project, etc. She has been seeing a few more clients in her psychotherapy practice. I think she spends an equal amount of time doing paperwork and dealing with insurance as she does in sessions.

Once a week Mary takes our granddaughter Olivia to a tutor for help with reading. Olivia has a touch of dyslexia that made it hard for her to read. The tutor has really helped her read better. That has had a huge impact on her attitude and grades. It is really noticeable. Thanks to Evonne for suggesting Patricia (resultsreading.com).

I have been working on what I’m going to do this coming season on the farm. As you know our restaurant business dried up last summer which does appear to be due to the proliferation on new low priced beer and burger places in the cities. I think that business will eventually come back but it will be a while.

This year I’m going to grow a limited number of crops for our co-op customers and the restaurants that really are committed to making good food with locally grown organic produce. The list of crops is tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, kale, and winter squash. I’ll also grow a few odds and ends because we treat the fields as our garden.

What I’m thinking for the CSA is to offer those crops and a limited selection of greens and radishes in a different format.

Last fall I had offered the last of our squash and potatoes to the Delano Community Group email list on a preorder basis. The list of available products varied from week to week and the price ranged from retail to wholesale depending on how much was ordered. For the small number of items available it was quite a success.

This year’s CSA would work along the same lines. Instead of paying upfront and getting what you get, you would receive an availability list emailed to you each week, you would select the items that you want and pay for the veggies when you pick them up. What do you think ? Interested ? Let me know.
Even with the snow it is time to start warming up the greenhouse.


Early Winter Newsletter Jan 2019

Riverbend Farm Early Winter Newsletter

Winter came early this year and stayed. It got so cold so fast that the rye cover crop, planted in early October never emerged. Now temperatures are 20° above normal. This past year was another year for weird weather.

Temperatures were 20³ below normal for late September, all of October and November. In early October We were hustling to get root crops out of the field before it got cold enough to damage them. Mostly we made it, only a few of the last potatoes out were frozen.

And of course lately it has been warm, record breaking warm. Which, really has been kind of nice except for the rain. Our yard ( the part we drive on. The grassy area is the lawn…) becomes unbelievable slick when there is a skim of meltwater or rain on top of the packed snow.

All this is erratic weather is due to blocked patterns that are a very noticeable effect of climate change. The jet stream is weaker due to the warmer temperatures in the Arctic. The weakened jet stream gets wobbly and does not move the weather patterns like it used to only a few years ago. This is the phenomena that created the cool damp conditions for late blight in August 2017, the very hot conditions that killed the pepper and eggplant blossoms in July, and the early winter this year.

The stuck nature of the weather is so new that no one appears to have a handle on forecasting the large scale blocked weather events. Part of the problem appears to be a lack of understanding of what conditions cause the weather pattern to stall and why they eventually start to move again. There are people working on it and have some interesting observations (https://www.aer.com/science-research/climate-weather/arctic-oscillation/) but the predictions are not very specific or necessarily accurate.

If we had temperatures that were 20° below normal in the spring / early summer we would have freezing temperatures well into the middle of June and 60s through all of July. As you can imagine that would raise hell with trying to grow any warm season crops here.

On the business side of the farm, our sales to local restaurants collapsed this summer. Just a few years ago restaurant sales were 60% of our business. This year they were about 30%. And 80% of that was from just four places. One of those restaurants changed chefs and the new chef is more inclined to buy off the US Foods truck than local farms.

It is possible that I pissed off everyone, but I think there is more going on. Early this summer Libby Wyrum sent out a plea to chefs to buy just a case of produce from farmers at the Linden Hills Farmers Market. I heard that the response was minimal and that 60% of the farmers were giving up. Dan Moe was in touch asking about how to maintain a relationship with restaurants. Irene and Andy at York Farm are calling quits. Patrick at Breezy Hill was sitting a huge apple crop when fruit used to be the hottest thing going.

Farming is a hard way to make a living. Our conventional neighbors can attest to this with the trade woes brought on by the Chinese tariffs on commodities. Not to mention that even in good years they need to farm 3000 acres to make ends meet. For some reason, well, probably several reasons, a lot of small organic farms have been calling it quits in the past few years. It looks like there is a shift in buying patterns happening across the board because CSA and direct market farms like us have all been affected.

I’m still trying to figure out what all this means for us. I have been talking myself into and out of doing this again next year since August but one of the things that has become clear is that I can’t continue to do what I have been doing.

As always, it is not just one thing like the market, there are several issues that are coming together to affect the viability of small farms: labor, weather, quality of life, income and expenses all are a part of it.

Labor is an issue for everyone. In the past few years it has been really hard to find help. Good bad or indifferent. Half of the people I talked to this past season either quit or never even showed up. Restaurants have been chronically short handed for several years.

Not having a reliable, hard working crew means that things don’t get done on time. And the way things work here is that there is only a small window to get a project finished. Mulching tomatoes is labor intensive and has to be done before the tomatoes are staked. Tomatoes need to be staked before they start to sprawl. Installing tomato stakes is also very labor intensive… Once those deadlines are missed there is no going back and fixing it. The next big job is waiting to get done.

CSA is a lot of fun but without the restaurant business to share the overhead of the 20 different types of crops that go into it, it becomes unaffordable. We have intentionally never had a big CSA. Having taken our members money there is a lot or pressure to produce. The way was it was we could put together bountiful shares without paying much attention to planting just exactly so many tomato plants or row feet of arugula.

Working through some numbers, assuming twice as many members, it would take close to an acre to produce the veggies for the CSA. A rule of thumb is that it takes about one person per acre for mixed veggies. Larger areas of a single crop are more efficient using labor. An all winter squash CSA would be a tough sell. With 20 different crops one acre there is no efficiency of scale. Twenty five CSA shares translates into just under $14,000 of income. Raising the price 10% brings the total to $15,000, almost enough to pay the property taxes and buy health insurance.

This fall we did try a direct market experiment with small scale orders for veggies. I sent out an availability list to the dcg email list. People could order any amount they wanted and the price varied between retail and wholesale depending on the quantity. It worked okay except someone didn’t show up for their veggies. The other thing is that all the crops on the list had been harvested and washed so I just had to weigh and assemble the orders.

Another idea that I have been thinking about is that we have a lot of land that could make nice pasture. I’m not interested in taking care of cows in the winter so pigs or sheep make sense. Nobody eats sheep so pigs could be a good fit. I have all the equipment to grow small grains and corn for their feed. We have (or at least had ) lots of produce that does not wind up going anywhere and would be appreciated by the pigs. Turkeys and ducks kind of fit into that mold too. The holdup is that other than a few hundred chickens I have never done livestock for sale.

There are a bunch of other enterprises along the value added line like smoked peppers, exotic paprika, nixtamal, etc. to be considered. Of course another option is to just get a job.

The are a lot of pieces in the puzzle and I’m not even sure that all of them are even in this box. If you have any great ideas, be sure to let me know.
All the best in the new year.


Late Summer Newsletter September 2018

Riverbend Farm Late Summer Newsletter

What a bunch of beautiful days. This is why people live here. Okay, the last couple days were a little warm and humid but in the shade the breeze has been a little cool. Lately the mosquitoes have been noticeable, but they have been missing all summer and are nothing compared to other years. Moderate temperatures, no hurricanes, forest fires, raining frogs, it is darn near perfect.

Every weed in the world is trying to go to seed. If you are an allergy sufferer then you know that ragweed is in full bloom. The blackbirds are starting to flock together. With all of the available seeds the birds have not returned to the bird feeder. The sun is moving south faster. Fall is coming.

Out in the field the late planted buckwheat is just starting to flower. If you look around all the wild flowers except for the goldenrod and the yellow daisy like flowers are done. The zukes and cukes are still putting up male flowers but they don’t seem to have enough energy to produce female flowers. Most of the annual plants have not adapted to the longer growing season yet. It has only been about 5 years so that would be a very dramatic shift for them.

Bees on the other hand are active until it freezes. Once it gets cold at night they start to settle down for winter. Beekeepers can feed honeybees but the native pollinator and predators don’t have it so easy. Hopefully they find the buckwheat patch. Buckwheat has a small flower is very accessible nectar. Even the tiniest bees can reach it. I did notice a lot of tiny flying insects (predatory wasps I suspect but they are too small to easily identify) are investigating the flowers already.

All the neighbor’s corn is turning brown and their soybeans are yellow. Our corn is getting a few brown leaves at the bottom and the ears are fully filled. Some of the stalks have to be 12’ tall. The variety is Reid;s Yellow Dent, an organic heirloom variety. I don’t know if it is the year or the variety but a lot of the ears were set over my head. It is only halfway up the plant, but still. The seed tasted good so I’m interested to try this corn. I think that it will make great cornmeal.

The Peregrine beans are starting to fade from green to yellow and starting to mature the beans. The romanos are mostly done. I may try some of them as shell beans but most of the remaining beans will go as seed for next year. We did have some of the mature beans with kale and pasta. They made a decent large white bean, but not knock your cocks off flavorful. The real test will be eating them cooked with a bay leaf and olive oil. Worst case, they are seeds.

The peppers are starting to wake up. It may not be too late for them. We really need something like CSI for veggies but I think that it was too warm for the peppers at the wrong time. Peppers drop their blossoms when it is above 90° during the day and it stays above 75° at night. IIRC there were some July nights in that range. And then it cooled off making them think it was fall and decided to wait for next year. Peppers are perennials so the are not too worried about setting seed. Now that it has been warm for so long the pepper plants are getting going again and are covered with flower buds. It will be interesting to see if they can produce fruit with the warm temperatures and shorter days. The might make it since they are tropical plants that evolved nearer the equator with more equal length of days and nights.

The cosmos did not start flowering until just a couple weeks ago either.

There are a ton of winter squash but they too are taking their time. Back in the olde days of weather they would be freezing to death in the next day or two. Now the fruit still have green streaks or stems that have not started to dry at all. It looks like there are a ton of butternut and kabochas out there. If It does not freeze in the next couple weeks and we don’t get weeks of steady rain, there should be a good crop of them. Hopefully you are looking forward to when the onslaught of tomatoes is replaced by winter squash.

The tomatoes are doing great. The hybrids in the first planting are blighting out. The Open pollinated varieties and heirlooms are holding their own. The fruit are generally a little smaller but there are lots of them. The second planting of tomatoes is starting to ripen. The first fruit always rot so I’m not rushing in there to harvest. If the weather holds we will have tomatoes until the middle of October, a month later than ‘normal’. If not, it has been good so far.


Late Summer Newsletter 2018

Riverbend Farm Late Summer Newsletter August 22, 2018

Another pretty normal week for August – hot and dry. I love it. Not really, but it does make everything taste better and it is the kind of weather that discourages late blight. The best parts are that there are no mosquitoes and it cools off at night.

Dragon flies and chickadees are back. Grasshoppers are thick. Hummingbirds are busy exploring the salvia, snap dragons and kiwi blue cerinthe flowers. Frogs and toads are also starting to appear. Something is building a nest in one of the paper tubes. It is mostly twigs with a little fuzzy stuff in the back. I pulled it out once but whatever it is filled it up again. Now I’m going to leave it and see what happens.

It is getting very dry. We have not had any real rain since the 3rd. Dragging layflat and lugging sprinklers around is not much fun but it is time to water. We did get a little sprinkle Monday evening. We had 0.08” last night, which was nice, but didn’t make a dent in the need to water. The weather is a little cooler so the water goes a lot farther. If it were 90° it would be a struggle to keep up. Maybe we will get some rain Thursday night.

The smokey weather has been kind of weird. Saturday morning it was foggy and there was a noticeable smell of smoke in the air. It does make for some very red sunsets.

It is a little risky to water the tomatoes after it has been so dry but they do need it. The tomatoes are just starting to really come on and lots o them are beginning to size up. The risk is that anything that is almost ripe will split. The plants have huge root systems (6’ across and 6’ deep) and are working really hard to suck up water. When they get easily accessible water they don’t react fast enough and the ripe fruit get so much water that they crack.

Not that the tomatoes care. They are trying to set seed. A split ripe tomato is going to rot and drop a load of mature seed. The next tomatoes in line will size up and ripen normally. A good watering now will carry them through the next couple weeks.

The potatoes are another story entirely. I could water them twice a week and they would use it all ( actually, I’m watering right now). Of course they are using all the water to make bigger potatoes so I’m not really complaining. As you might have noticed the new potatoes are getting pretty big. That is a good sign.

Peppers and eggplant are slow to set fruit this year. The plants are thriving in the hot weather, some of the hybrids are dark green, 2 feet tall but no peppers. I have heard the same thing from other growers around here.

The farm is shifting into a phase that is all about getting ready for next year. I have been busy disking under the cover crops and weeds everywhere I won’t be harvesting any of the rye seed. This is a little bit of a change from my usual routine. The perennial and winter annual weeds have adapted to the old pattern so changing it up a bit breaks up their lifecycle. The weeds are just coming into flower now that the rye is done growing. Since they are physiologically mature (flowering) they will not try to come back. It helps that it has been so dry too.

Disking in the cover crops adds tons of organic matter to the top soil. A typical hay crop is 3-4 tons per acre and the rye and vetch are much more than that. The rye and vetch that was a week ago is starting to come up. I have no idea where it found the moisture to germinate but it did. Once we get some meaningful rain, producing a thick winter cover that does not require any effort on my part. All the straw, old root mass and the new growth will add to the organic matter in the soil. Since we have so little clay in most of our soil the organic matter provides a place to water and nutrients to be held.

The hairy vetch will provide nitrogen for next year’s crops. A lack of N is the most likely nutrient to cause poor growth. The N that the vetch captured this year will be taken up by the newly sprouted rye, keeping it from leaching away. The vetch seeds will germinate and be coming up in a week or so and the new plants will continue to add N to the soil.

Tomorrow I am hoping to get some rye combined for seed. I’ll need that to plant cover crops in the areas that in vegetables now. Besides providing organic matter the rye will protect the soil from wind and water erosion. If the soil is bare and frozen the top layer dries out very quickly and will blow away. Even 2” tall rye will create a thick enough boundary layer .that wind can not pick up the lightest soil particles.

The other cover crop I have been planting is buckwheat. There are a couple areas that were infested with perennial weeds. I have let the weeds grow and cultivated them out all summer to wear down their root reserves. The buckwheat comes up quickly and shades the soil, starving the weeds for energy.

The other reason to plant buckwheat late is to provide nectar for honey bees and native pollinators. Brian Fredrickson from Ames Farm was talking about how the climate has shifted but the flowering plants lifecycle has not. All the annual weeds are trying to flower right now. If they don’t they wouldn’t have time to mature seed before they freeze in the middle of September. What they don’t know Is that it doesn’t get that cold until the middle of October now.

The bees don’t settle down for winter until it starts to freeze at night. The problem is that there aren’t any food sources for them for the last month of the season. Beekeepers can intervene and feed their bees. The native bees don’t have that option. If the weather cooperates (we get a little rain) the buckwheat will provide late flowers that all the bees can feed on. I count on the native bees and wasps for a lot of insect pest predation.

The other news is that I have finally decided that I have to do things differently next year. It is much harder to work all day on 90° temperatures and 70° dew points. By 6 PM I’m shot and being exhausted day after day for weeks at a time takes a lot of the fun out of farming. Not to mention that is not a healthy thing to do. And climate change is going in a favorable direction for this to improve. .

After 20 years I had to cut back on bunching green and radishes if I wanted to be able to close my hands. Now they don’t ache all the time but there arte still issues. My achin’ back, sore shoulder, etc., etc. Probably a sign to do something different.

The restaurant business in the Cities is changing. New restaurants are opening but some real classics have closed. Libby Wyrum sent out a letter begging chefs to buy from local farms. About half of the growers at the Linden Hill Farmers Market called it quits in the last year. Doug Flicker is running a bar. Our restaurant business has taken a hit this year, falling by about half.

Maybe there are just more farms selling to the same farm to table restaurants but it seems like there are more beer and burger places opening than places that actually buy local organic whenever possible. Restaurants are facing some big labor and cost issues even when more people than every are eating out. There does also appear to be some downward pressure on wholesale prices.

So the question is what are the next 20 years going to be like? The on farm CSA is still a lot of fun. Should we expand that ? Should we change direction a little and turn the most marginal land into pasture and raise some livestock ? Rent out pieces of the farm to people who want to start their own farm business ? Put in a pizza oven and do a once a month Pizza Farm event ? Do specialty ingredients for local restaurants that are still into that sort of thing ?

Lots of questions and not so many answers to far. My usual approach to problem solving is to try to understand the problem and then come up with an answer. This one is difficult because there are lots of parts to the problem and even more possible solutions. That’s what I have been thinking about for the last month or so. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.


Newsletter July 2018

Riverbend Farm Newsletter July 1, 2018

In a complete turnaround form May, the end of June has been quite wet. Since Monday the 11th we have had just over 4.5” of rain. And it is actually raining, just raining right now. No thunder and lightning or big winds, just rain. The rain has been spread out fairly well and has not been too much yet. The mosquitoes have finally appeared but the horseflies are the worst. They are fast and the bite hard.

On last Monday Logan, Kathy, and I (one of our workers decided that this was not a good job for her so she called it quits a couple weeks ago) planted a few lettuce that had been hanging around, around 1000 fall cabbage, and 500 or so kale plants for fall harvest. We got almost 1 ½” of rain that night so they were well watered in.

On Thursday we set out another 300 tomato plants. It is late, but I’m hoping that they won’t catch up with the earlier planted ones. Our fall season has been going month longer before first frost than it used to. The plan had always been for the first planting of tomatoes to run out in mid September when we would get our first frost.

Since the season is now a month longer and it is the night time low temperatures that have been increasing, it makes some sense to plant later. Late plantings always seem to catch up to the earlier ones (everything always comes in at once…) but I’m hoping they will be far enough behind to have tomatoes through early October. This rain is ideal for them.

Yesterday we had our monthly crop mob. We would usually be pounding in tomato stakes but with the slow start to the season and being a little short handed we were not ready. The mulch has to be put down before the 4’ tall tomato stakes go in. The stakes make it impossible to pull a load of hay down the rows and carrying it in from the ends is a complete nonstarter. The mob split into two teams with one picking up the mulch and loading on to wagons. The other team weeded between to tomatoes and spread the mulch.

There are not many people who have driven a tractor but we had 3 of them show up yesterday. Our neighbor Norman got the hay cut on Thursday and the rain held off so it had a couple days to dry. We used the hayloader to pick up the hay and put it on the wagons. Hayloaders were used to make haystacks before there were balers. Loose hay is much nicer to work with than baled hay for mulching, no strings to cut and collect (they are treated and can not be left in the field), no bales to break up, much lest dust, etc. We were getting about one row mulched per wagon load of hay and got about half of the tomatoes weeded and mulched.

I have been making some progress on the seed garden. The tomato varieties that I was growing for seed last year are planted side by side with some of the seeds from the late blight survivors to see if there is any difference. There are a few ex-hybrid pepper varieties that I’m trying to stabilize and some Aleppos that I’m doing a second round of adaptation on. They did not like being here last year and only ripened a few peppers. This year should be better adapted to our climate and growing conditions. Prairie Road Organics has some pea seed that they say tolerates hot weather. We’ll see. If it does it could be popular around here. They are shell peas an no one can afford to shell peas, but they simply taste the best.

The warm rainy weather has also brought out the bacterial spot in the arugula. There are three short rows in the seed garden to continue the selection for resistant plants. When the plants start to show the disease I pull them out. The first time about 3% of the plants were resistant. The second time about 10% were good. Hopefully this time will be better. Next year I’ll plant the resulting seed to produce a seed crop for field planting.

The kale plants are producing decent sized seed pods so it looks like they were successful. This year I am adding a little more Lacinato genetics to the Rainbow Lacinato. The leaves were starting to shift to the curly Redbor style and losing the rumpled Lacinato type leaf. All the plants in the cabbage family (cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, etc.) are self infertile so planting a Lacinato between the Rainbows should be enough to get them to recross. I’ll find out next year.

We are also part of an Organic Seed Alliance kale trial to try to find new varieties that will replace the hybrids that you usually see in the stores. In addition there are half a dozen blight resistant tomato varieties in the middle of the tomato field to evaluate for production, flavor and hopefully not late blight resistance. Some of the seeds from the tomatoes that survived the late blight are being grown at Perdue where they always have trouble with late blight. That is close enough, thank you very much.

Upcoming events:
4th of July Pancake Extravaganza fund raiser at The 221 in Delano. All the proceeds go to keeping the lights on and creating a nest egg to build a community commercial kitchen. The kitchen idea has been around for a long time and now there is a space. There are a lot more moving parts than I thought there would be but they all fit into the idea of making this a stronger community. The range is from start up businesses to providing meals for kids in the summer to a place where local farms can do a little value added to big family canning projects to teaching basic cooking skills.

Mid July there is a Co-op Farm tour where we will be showing people around the farm and having a look at the Organic Seed Alliance Kale Trial. There are 8 or 10 varieties of kale being grown side by side to compare how they do in real world conditions. My hope is to get some of our CSA members, produce buyers, chefs, other farmers and anyone else who is interested to come and sample some the possible replacements for Redbor and Winterbor, the red and green kale varieties you see in the co-ops. We will be hosting an official OSA field day in early August if you can’t make the Co-op Farm Tour.
As long as it is raining, I’m going to pickle some radishes.