Late Late Spring Newsletter 2018

Riverbend Farm Late Late Spring Newsletter June 19, 2018

The Summer Solstice is coming up on the 21st, the astronomical start to summer.

It was very draining to work in the recent hot weather. Now that it has cooled off 70° seems a little chilly. I’m writing this in a long sleeve shirt. The hot wet weather ( over 2.8” of rain since last Monday ) has been great for transplanting. Usually hot weather is really hard on transplants due to their limited root system. But when it rains every day there is water available to the plants that I can’t match with irrigation. The transplants recover and start to look better in just a day or two.

The weeds love this weather too. The down side of it raining so much is that cultivation is not very effective if you can do it at all without damaging the soil structure. Weeds make vegetable transplants look like real softies. A lot of weeds only need a tiny fragment of their roots covered with soil to survive and go on to thrive.

Direct seeded crops are loving it too. The warm wet soil is perfect for germinating crop seeds as well as weed seeds. I just started a nursery bed for fall kale, broccoli and cabbage transplants. Some of the seed emerged in two days and all of them were up in four days, which is not bad even in the germination chamber. In early July these seedlings will go out to the field and be harvested in September and October. Our first frost date has moved back from mid September to mid October which adds another month to our growing season. .

Last week was a big week for us. Besides getting a lot of planting done we got a new water line installed between the well and the house. This well also feeds the greenhouses and the packing shed. The yard is still a mess but having the water system back in action is simply great. You really don’t miss the water until the well goes dry. Water pressure is much better at the greenhouse and the packing shed. The water temperature in the shower is much more predictable and stable. It is great to be back to normal.

Working in between the rain showers Mary and I have been making good progress in the seed garden. We plant a lot of flowers to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. We need pollinators to produce seeds.

There are several pepper varieties that I have been trying to dehybridize and last year’s tomato seed production was mostly wiped out by late blight. The cool August last year was a great selection pressure for cold tolerant okra. Germination was poor but the 25 or so plants that made it should be a viable breeding population. Prairie Road Organics claims to have a heat tolerant shell pea. We will see about that. They also have Hidatsa Shield, simply the best tasting dry bean. I’m just increasing the seed lots this year.

It has been raining a lot. We have sandy soil and everything will have to thoroughly washed before eating. Just sayin’. The easiest way to do this is to cut the bunches just above the rubber band and drop into a deep sink full of tepid water. Gently agitate the greens several times over a few minutes, giving the sand a chance to settle to the bottom. Move the greens to a second bath of clean water and repeat. If you taste a leaf and it is not gritty, they are ready to use. If they are still gritty, repeat the washing process.

This weeks CSA Share contains:
Arugula – salad green with holes.
Lettuce – the big one is Cracoviensis Listed as a distinct type, Asparagus Lettuce, in The Vegetable Garden by Vilmorin-Andrieux (1885). Highly prized in China where they peel and eat the thick fleshy stems like asparagus, a practice that chefs have adopted here. Lifted from The FEDCO catalog. It takes its name from Krakow Poland. It is unique as it does not get bitter even when going to seed. Mary peeled the stalk and added it to our salad like carrot sticks. It does have a slight asparagus flavor. The little heads are Salanova types, a salad mix style of lettuce. It looks great in a salad and tastes good too.
Kale – Nash’s red. Strip the stem and use the raw leaves in salad or saute them in a little water until just cooked. Eat with butter ( the vitamins in greens are fat soluble and are more available when eaten with butter or olive oil), salt and pepper, maybe a dash of vinegar.
Turnips – Chris Blanchard at Rock Spring Farm called them Spinruts. These are not fall turnips, they are mild and tender. Use in salad or quarter ( or dice) and fry in butter. Eat warm with a little salt. The greens are edible too. Saute them with the kale. The new Sioux Chef cookbook has a recipe for greens and corn cakes. We made polenta, but it was a great way to have greens.
Radishes – your choice of red or French Breakfast. Wash, trim, eat with salt, good bread and Hope butter. I read that a glass of good red wine is the traditional accompaniment.
Corn meal – Whole grain freshly ground corn meal. The deer ate all of our flour corn last fall so this is an organic yellow dent variety grown by Doug Lundeen over in Cokato. The oil in the germ will go rancid if stored at room temperature. It was so wet / humid today that I would store the corn meal in the freezer to keep any moisture that it may have picked up from causing it to spoil.
Rhubarb – You know, its rhubarb. I did hear today that someone eats it over breakfast cereal. That seems pretty hard core to me but I’m thinking I might try it, thinly sliced over granola with a little sugar. Or not. Yogurt is sour.
Garlic scapes – the flower stalk from garlic bulbs. All your saved garlic is dried out or moldy so this will do until fresh garlic is available again. Use it in place of garlic but It is fibrous so slice it thin. Or make it into pesto. Or pickle it.
Dill – herb for flavoring garlic scape pickles.
Sorrel – strongly lemon flavored herb. Use a little in salad or in soup.
Herb pot – the herbs can be separated and planted out or they can be left on the pot. If left in the pot, they look terrible by the end of the season, but still work just fine. If planted in less than average soil the oregano, chives and usually thyme are hardy perennials. The dill is flowering. The flowers attract lots of beneficial insects. Then you can use the seeds or let them drop and reseed themselves. Other herbs in the pot are basil, marjoram, and summer savory ( skinny stems with spiky leaves).

Soap box –
I’m not sure where I saw it but there was an article about inexpensively removing CO2 from the atmosphere. There was not a lot of detail but David Keith, a Harvard professor has proposed a method for converting atmospheric CO2 into ‘gasoline’. The article seemed to be promoting this as was way to combat climate change.

I see three problems with this:
1) the average cost of removing CO2 was said to be ~$160 per ton. On an annual basis about 35 gigatons of CO2 are emitted worldwide. $160 X 35,000,000,000 = $5.6 trillion. On a per person basis that comes out to $740 (in round numbers), not too bad. Except that only moves us back to 2017 ( or whenever this technology comes on line, if ever) CO2 levels which are still a problem.
2) The 70% of the world’s population that lives on less than $10 a day are going to have a hard time finding that much in their budget. Heck, I’ll bet that the 43 million Americans living in poverty ( approx. $25,000 for a family of 4) would have a hard time coming up with an extra $60 a month for CO2 removal.
3) Turning removed carbon into gasoline doesn’t actually remove any CO2 from the atmosphere.

It’s late. I was at a Kitchen Circle meeting with the Crow River Food Council. More on that later.


Late Spring Newsletter 2018

Riverbend Farm Late Spring Newsletter June 10, 2018

Our CSA will start up next week on Tuesday the 19th.

The past few weeks have bee a whirlwind of field work and planting, with a little cultivation thrown in for good measure.

The weather has moderated which has made my life a lot less stressful. Daily high temperatures have dropped back to a few degrees above normal and lows are 5-10° warmer than usual. The big change is that we have been getting some rain. There was a big one, 1.6”, after the tomato planting in late May and we have been getting about 0.6” per week since then. The rain showers have been well timed, usually coming a few days apart.

We have the ability to irrigate, but not having to do it opens up time to do everything else. This is our busiest time of the year. Besides getting cover crops turned back into the soil, there is the greenhouse to tend to, plants sales, a ton of planting to do, weed control, the first harvests, and simple stuff like just mowing that all needs to be done. Moving headers and sprinklers takes time and that backs up the schedule for everything else that needs to be done.

On the last Saturday of May about 20 people showed up for our monthly crop mob to plant tomatoes. It got to be another beastly hot day but we did set out around 5000 tomato plants. Even with watering as soon as we were finished some of the plants in the last section to get water did not make it. We will have to go back and fill in those rows with plants that were left over or plants from the second planting.

Direct seeding crops like beans, corn, and squash can get pushed back a little by the need to get transplants in the ground but they were all planted within a few days of Memorial Day, the traditional time to plant gardens. By then the soil had warmed up and dried out enough to be the ideal seedbed. The seasons have shifted around a little but it is still a deadline I try to meet to let the veggies mature before first frost.

A couple weeks ago, we, Logan, Kathy, Rachelle, and I planted a couple thousand pounds of potato seed and got them covered up a day before it rained. Mary and I have been planting onions. I’m still not giving up on growing them even though my success rate has been very low. Last week Logan’s dad, Dave came by and helped us set out 3000 sweet peppers and eggplant. On Thursday afternoon we put in a couple thousand hot peppers. I did have to water some of the hot peppers. Rain was forecast for Thursday night into Friday morning but it did not appear and some of the habanero plants weren’t big enough to be root bound in the flats.

If a transplants roots don’t fill up the entire volume of soil in the cell the plug of wet potting mix weighs too much and the plant can’t pull it out. In the process, a lot of the plant’s roots get torn off. We usually try to lift the plants out of the cell with a butter knife when that happens but it does not always work. Fussing with them to much when we have thousands of plants to set out is a non starter. We aim to plant about 500 plants per hour per person, but there is time spent making rows, marking rows, making maps. carrying flats, etc. The over all average is only 250-300 plants per hour, which still puts a lot of plants in the ground in a few hours.

On Saturday we had a rainy day. It was great, a nearly all day gentle rain. We did not need or get the 2-3” that fell just to our south. It made for a great day to get caught up on all the things that get set aside for later in the rush to do things now. Since it wasn’t raining first thing in the morning I was able to do some mowing, things look much better now. While it was raining I washed up all the trays and flats that we emptied when planting, sharpen and oil all of the clippers, organized and stored all the pot stakes we use for plant sales, cut some new row markers for the field, and do some basic clean up. It was very satisfying.

Looks Like a little more rain today.


Early Summer 2018 Newsletter

Riverbend farm Early Summer Newsletter May 24, 2018

I wrote this this morning and ran out of time to send it out before diving into my day. It started raining as Logan and I were setting up irrigation. So far we have received 0.07”, pushing us over ½” since the middle of April. And it looks like we are going to get more rain shortly. That does not change much of what wrote this morning. If we don’t get an inch of rain I’m still going to water before we set out the tomatoes.

The birds are back. The hummingbirds were in the apple blossoms. The oriels are zooming around doing what ever they do beside build crazy nests. The chickens are loving life. They have trees to hide under, bugs to eat, sun and dust. A safe place to stay at night. What more could a chicken want ? They produce 2 to 6 eggs a day. Counting what they get fed in the winter these are the most expensive eggs ever. But the yolks are seriously orange and they taste like eggs. A real luxury.

It is so dry that the weeds are wilting. We have had less than ½” (0.48”) of rain since the big snow in mid April. The winter planted carrot experiment was a failure this year. It never rained once the ground warmed up enough for them to germinate. The really sandy parts of the field are powder dry. Even the clay soils, where it is always touch and go because they stay wet to long, are dry. The wet spot at the end of the south field was the only area where there was a normal amount of moisture in the soil. Temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s only make the situation worse. A 90° day takes about 1/3” of water out of the soil.

We need an inch of rain per week to keep up with our moisture needs. Averages are meaningless. One 4” rain a month is not the same. In the old normal climate pattern we would get that and then some in April and May. By June it would dry out a little and July and August could have a short dry spell. When we started this 25 years ago we did not have any field scale irrigation because we didn’t need it.

The changing climate is affecting my crop rotation. The weather went from Winter directly to Summer this year. Without the spring rains my rye cover crop is less than half as tall us it would normally be at this time. Many years the rye was over the hood of the tractor (~5’ ) when it was plowed under at this time of year. This year it is only 18”-24” tall. The lack of plant material cuts down the amount of organic matter that gets incorporated into the soil. With our sandy soil, organic matter is the component that holds water and nutrients. Without lush cover crops to maintain soil fertility I will have to change my farming system.

The real issue is that the climate is changing in easily foreseeable long term but unpredictable short term ways. Not to venture too far into politics but it is odd that party affiliation seems to be a reliable indicator of acceptance of science. Which is not to say that either political party had the will to do what was really needed to prevent large scale climate disruption.

No matter what anyone believes about global warming, I can’t see how it makes any sense to keep adding carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) to the atmosphere. It has been known for quite some time that when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging.

Climate change has been known about since the early 1980s. With the AMOC ( Gulf Stream) slowing, the polar ice melting, stable loops in the jet stream, etc., etc. it appears that we could be near or past a tipping point in climate change. Passing a tipping point means that adding CO2 to the atmosphere is not the big driver of global warmingr anymore. Changes to the physical planet take over as the driver of climate change. That would be very bad news.

The only way to cut down the amount of CO2 going into the air is to cut down on the amount of fossil energy used world wide. Individually I’m guessing that we are all doing our bit. Really, it is up to people like us to make meaningful changes that will impact the rate of climate change. Our grandkids are going to have to live with the effects much longer that us.

Unfortunately, it will take a reduction on a global scale. At this point the required reduction in fossil energy use will crash the global consumer / growth economy It is pretty clear why no political party has had the determination to do that. Knowing that does not do anything to change my opinion of short sighted self serving politicians.

There is actually an up side to the dry weather. Mosquitoes have been conspicuously absent. A real blessing.

The other good news is that there is a chance of rain tonight ( we have had a very useful 0.4” so far today ). But I’m going to water anyway. We have a crop mob on Saturday to plant tomatoes. With a fair chance for a record high temperature the little plants will dry out in a few hours even if we water when we set them out.

If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday come to the crop mob and help us plant tomatoes. It usually runs from 10 until about 2 but we will get done quicker if we get a bunch of people to help out. One thing – if you are coming, please check in at the Birchwood website ( ) because they provide lunch and an accurate head count cuts down on food waste.

We ( Kathy, Logan, Rachelle, me and Mary ) have been busy in the greenhouse getting veggie starts ready for plant sales. Plant sales have been good this year. I’m hopeful that people are getting back into gardening and discovering how good ripe, fresh food can taste. Besides working in the greenhouse we have three successions of greens and radishes direct seeded, a quarter acre of summer cabbage, kale and lettuce planted and have been keeping up on hoeing and watering. They are a good crew, not a ton of experience but hard workers.

Kind of a downbeat newsletter, but that is what is happening on the farm and what I’m thinking about.


Spring Newsletter May 2018

Riverbend Farm Spring Newsletter May 2, 2018

This a much nicer weather than we were having two weeks ago. The chickens were excited to be finally let outside. They spend most of the time just sitting in the warn sunshine or scratching for seeds and bugs. The rhubarb has poked out a few small leaves and the tips of the first asparagus are starting to show. The river is up, flooding some of the river bottom. The first few frogs have thawed out, we can hear them peeping. Lots of the trees are budding out but the oak trees are still holding on to their leaves.

Of all the birds the robins enjoy the birdbath the most. The nuthatch chicks have hatched out. My sister spotted them in a knothole in a tree at my folk’s house. We are getting all the usual suspects at the bird feeder but the mob of blackbirds seems to have dispersed. Which reminds me – during the blizzard the blackbirds mobbed the feeder. There must have been a hundred of them. All of a sudden they would all fly. Then we noticing a hawk out in the field eating something. The blackbirds returned and the hawk made a second pass. It was quite something to see. I guess it was a bird feeding station for all the birds.

We are currently getting our first spring rains. They are gentle showers that don’t amount to much but will green up everything. The mid April blizzard sure put a damper on field work. Some parts of our fields are dry enough to work but none of our neighbors have started their spring tillage. Some of their fields still have water in them. The sandy parts of our fields have dried out but the heavier soil is still a little too soft to work. The big puddle in the field south of the house just disappeared over the weekend.

I finally got the first radishes and arugula planted yesterday. It felt like the season was finally starting. This year there is finally an organic hybrid red radish. I have three rows of red radishes planted. One Cherriette, a very reliable, productive, good tasting conventional hybrid, Sora, a decent organic open pollinated variety and Rover, the new organic hybrid. Exciting stuff, I know.

Lettuce and kale will start going in next week. The deer hunters were unsuccessful last year so I’ll have to invest in a new fence charger. Deer love lettuce and take just one bite out of the center of the head two days before it is ready to harvest. No peas this year. They are marginal when planted in the middle of April, now it will be too warm too soon.

Both greenhouses are up and running. While it was so cold after the storm the first one was crammed full. Now that it is warmer at night I have the second one opened up and have moved all the cool season plants over there. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are a little behind the last couple years due to the cold temperatures. With the recent warm sunny days they are making good progress. Nights in the 50s are very welcome.

Since the frost has gone out I have been able to fix the broken water line going out to the greenhouse. The problem was a 30 year old piece of plastic pipe that had split. It is so nice to have the water on in the greenhouses. I had been running a hose out there and filling big tubs and then using buckets and a watering can to water the plants. That is not a bad way to do it when there are just a few plants or when they are very small, but on a warm sunny day a greenhouse full of medium sized plants takes 75-80 gallons of water. A lot of lugging buckets…

Mary and I have been busy repotting, moving things up from 98s to 50s or 3.5” pots (98 and 50 refer to the number of cells in a 1020 tray). Mette and Mark (two regular crop mobbers ) were out and gave us a hand with repotting a couple weeks ago moving the seedlings from 200s to the 98s.

A holdover from the cold April is that the bulk of my potting soil is still frozen. The good news is that the edges have thawed and I don’t have to chip off chunks and bring them into the greenhouse to soften up anymore.

We will also be selling starter plants at the Birchwood on Mother’s Day Weekend and the following weekend. If you can’t make it to either one of those sales, both the Wedge and Seward Co-ops will carry a selection of our plants. Otherwise we will be selling plants at the farm by appointment.

Back to the greenhouse


Late Winter Newsletter 2018

Riverbend Farm Late Winter Newsletter April 8, 2018

It is odd to see the sun come up so far north in ‘winter’. This is certainly a change in the weather. The temperatures have been setting record lows for a change. I’m really grateful for these past few sunny days. Can you imagine how dismal it would be to have it this cold and cloudy ? And, it is snowing tonight. It is pretty on the pine trees, but I am so done with winter.

The near zero nights have made greenhouse management to keep things from f-f-f-freezing at night a priority. The infloor heat is energy efficient but it is slow to react. And really, the heating system is designed for growing in April. There is a reason I don’t start anything until early March. And keeping the greenhouse at 55° with a couple sheets of plastic between you and outerspace is a tall order.

I have been covering the little plants with several layers of row cover to hold in the heat over night. That has worked pretty well. So far I have only lost a few nasturtiums when the night covers weren’t quite as secure as they should have been. A few of the eggplant look kind of unhappy but they are still upright and green

Jimmy and Heather next door are fighting to keep their lettuce and beets from freezing and dying in the tunnels. The high tunnels only have a sheet of row cover, a layer of plastic and no heat. I ran into Jerry and Sur Untiedt yesterday. They had a propane flowmeter go bad and lost six tunnels full of tomatoes. I guess things cold be worse…

In the greenhouse I’m getting jammed up for space. I can’t leave anything uncovered and it is time to repot a lot of the plant sale tomatoes and peppers. It looks like this week will be a good time to get caught up, night time temperature will be close to freezing. BTW, average temperatures for today are 52° for the high and 29° for the low. .

In most years I would be plowing under cover crops and getting ready to start seeding radishes and arugula this week. That won’t be happening for a couple weeks. The frost is starting to break up but it is still there and the recent snow will make the soil too wet to work. .

The other thing that happens when the frost goes out is that I can turn on the water for the greenhouse. This year it is going to be a little later than usual due to the broken water line. Although I’m optimistic that it can be fixed enough to get the water for the greenhouses turned on. The plants in thimble full of dirt dry out very quickly in the April sun even if it is 25° outside..

Back to vacuuming up tiny grasshoppers


Spring 2018 Newsletter

2018 Early Spring Newsletter

Most of the snow has melted off the fields. The only places where there is much left is where it drifted in by the fencerows. Compared to the past few years spring seems really slow in coming but this is more like what used to be normal.

The birds are starting to show up. I had been hearing cardinals in the morning and today I see one in the lilac bush outside my window. Mary saw a robin a week ago and we have been hearing sandhill cranes. Yesterday I saw them down in the neighbor’s field. I have no idea what they are doing here at this time of year. Even our retired chickens have also decided that it is spring. They have laid a total of 8 eggs so far this year.

There has been a lot going on.

When I sat down to start writing this newsletter we had been out of water for a little over a day. The underground line from the well to the house broke again. There is never a good time for that but when there is four feet of frost in the ground it is particularly troublesome. Jim, the well guy pulled the pump up so he could test the pressure and the flow, and it was fine. The problem was in the pipe between the house and the well.

When we had the pump replaced a few years ago the real problem was a broken pipe between the house and the well. The pump was 25 years old and we had it out, it made sense to replace it. Last fall, just before freeze up the water line that feeds the yard hydrant, packing shed and greenhouses broke. This time it is between the well and the house.

Now we have a ¾” garden hose that runs from the top of the well around the house to an outside faucet and supplies water for the house. The hose runs inside 2” PVC conduit with a heat tape. Of course the length of the hose and the heat tapes don’t match up so there is a little insulated ‘doghouse’ to keep the end of the hose and the outside faucet from freezing. So far it was worked down to about +5°. Hopefully we don’t have any more below zero weather coming.

I have been busy in the greenhouse getting seeds started. Onions and herbs are the first things planted since they take so long to come up and grow very slowly. The onion seeds are starting to poke out of the potting mix already.

Most of the first wave of peppers has been seeded along with the eggplant. A lot of these seedlings will go to garden veggie transplant sales. They get an early start since big plants in 3½ pots sell so much better.

And there are a couple trays of 2012 tomatoes seeds that were planted early to check their viability. I’m out of the Peron Sprayless seed due to the problems with late blight last year. These tomato seeds were grown early in my selection process but some resistance to early blight and septoria leaf spot is better than any seed that I can buy. It looks like close to 100% of the seeds germinated and emerged so I won’t have to go back to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and start over.

There may be a bright spot in the late blight story. As part of my seed production program I had several varieties of tomatoes that were being grown for seed. They were infected with late blight and most of them died, but there were a few plants that recovered and produced normal green leaves by the end of the season. They even ripened a few small fruit.

Of course I saved the seeds out of those tomatoes. The results from the germ chamber show that those fruit produced viable seed. Nearly all of them have emerged. With any luck they should have some resistance to late blight. I’m going to grow them out to see what the tomatoes are like.

In all my messing around with saving and selecting seeds I have run into a fair number of people from various universities who are involved in plant breeding. The University of Wisconsin – Madison has a big horticulture program and one of the plant breeders there, Julie Dawson was interested to get some of the late blight resistant tomato seeds. She is going to send them to her friend at Purdue who always gets late blight. We should know by the end of the summer how much, if any, resistance these seeds carry.

One of the things I discovered ordering seeds this year was that hybrid pepper seeds pepper seeds are hard to find. At the Organic Conference I talked to Adrienne from Vitalis Seeds and she said that hybrid pepper seed are difficult to produce for several reasons: 1) both parent lines have to flower at the same time, 2) the plants need to be hand pollinated, 3) it tales a long time to mature the fruits so the seeds are viable, 4) doing all that organically is even harder due to the lack of useful insecticides and fungicides to protect the seed crop.

Adrienne also said that some pepper seeds are grown in greenhouses in the Netherlands but most of them are field grown in Thailand and India. The weather there has been alternating between drought and floods. Not good for seed production. Virtually no hybrid bell pepper seeds are produced in the US. I can tell there is a bell pepper breeding project in my future.

This summer we are taking part in a kale trial. Besides peppers, kale seeds have been hard to come by. The goal of the trial is to find organic replacements for Redbor and Winterbor. Redbor and Winterbor have suffered seed crop failures the past couple years, not to mention that they have the flavor and texture of a Brillo pad. I think the problem in this case is at the cold, stormy weather and flooding that they have been having in Europe in the winter.

I just read that spinach seed crops are being hurt by Fusarium Wilt in the Pacific Northwest. Fusarium is a soil borne disease that can persist in the soil for over 10 years. They grow a lot of seeds out there and are running out of infected land, not to mention that their climate is changing too. Look for baby spinach prices to rise.

Suddenly we are involved in buying building in Delano. Gina, the owner of the long gone Three Crows has been resisting opening another restaurant but couldn’t shake the good feeling of community that grew out of that place. A group of former patrons would meet occasionally to dream about what could be. Mary was part of a small group that looked at spaces in Delano to see what was available. One thing quickly lead to another and we’re buying a vacant building.

It won’t be Three Crows 2.0 but there will be gathering space for community events, maybe music, movies, discussions, artist studios, and a commercial kitchen. The one catch with having this building is that the various functions have to generate enough income to pay the bills. We are not exactly sure what it will be but the mention of kitchen space has a lot of people interested. I’m sure we will be learning a lot about local food production and value added grants.

On top of all of that, we have been getting my folk’s house ready to sell. It has been .a huge project. My parents were children of the depression. They kept everything. It has taken forever to just get the house and garage cleaned out and then there are the updates. Lets just say that things we never really noticed before are not big selling features. It is a huge project.

And people wonder what farmers do in the winter…

There is an up coming event is an organic gardening workshop on Saturday April 7th at Otten Brothers in Long Lake. The workshop is sponsored by Otten Bros and Harvest Moon Co-op. We will be talking about everything from seed starting and garden basics to pollinator and organic lawns. More information will be available shortly.

Newsletter October 2017

Riverbend Farm newsletter October 10, 2017

There was a disconsolate looking robin standing on the ice in the birdbath this morning. We had a low temperature of 30° this morning. It was much colder out in the field. This was our first frost of the season, a little earlier than last year but almost a month later than the old normal.

Walking around this afternoon it was clear what had been frozen beyond recovery and what will make a come back. The first thing I noticed was that the zinnias by the house were fine, even the morning glories were untouched. The moonflower however was very dead. The zinnias in the field were all affected but the ones closest to the barn ad a little higher will be okay. The ones at the end of the row, a little lower ( ~2’ max.) were toast.

All the winter squash leaves are dead. This should convince them that it is time to harden off the squash and call it a season. They were not ready to give up, there were still some new squash blossoms on the plants. The okra leaves are all frozen and wilted but I’m not sure all the plants are dead. Last year they recovered a little after the first frost. It’s possible that it was too cold for them last night but we will see. I’m hoping that some of the earliest pods have mature seeds. It was a cool summer and a great year for selecting early okra.

The Aleppo peppers were not fazed by the frost. Not that they are doing much but it is the first year growing them here. I picked red peppers off 17 out of 31 plants. Some of the plants were pretty pathetic, maybe 6” tall and one tiny pepper. And maybe none. In a few years they will be just fine.

The bell and sweet peppers were heavily damaged by the frost. The plants are not completely dead and the peppers that were covered by the leaves could be okay. It will take a week or so to see how they do. If we get a few more weeks of warm weather they might make a come back. Hot peppers were hit or miss. The jalapenos are fine. Most of the rest of them are probably done.

We are simply running out of some varieties of eggplant but they look relatively good. The top leaves will be burned but the fruit are so solid and heavy it takes them a long time to freeze.

The winter radishes and turnips were unaffected. The salad radishes have wilted leaves. The leaves had not recovered by this evening so I think they may be done. The roots are good but people look at the leaves (which they don’t eat) when buying radishes. All the green s look fine.

It has been a weird fall. In all of September we has about 1.5” of rain. A week ago we had 3”. It was more than we needed but less than they got just west of us. I heard as much as 6” in parts of Montrose. Our fields were pretty mushy. We had to watch where we were walking as we were harvesting for last week’s CSA. Driving a truck or tractor in there would have been impossible.

A couple weeks ago a crop mob pulled up a bed or dry beans instead of harvesting winter squash. The beans were also making new green leaves. Some of them even has flowers. The beans are a variety that the UofM is working on. You have had them as shell beans. Judging by the amount of plants that got pulled it will be a tremendous crop. The vines and all filled one of our greenhouses. With all the rain that came in it was good to get the beans out of the field. I don’t know how the rest of them were feeling but me and Mary were completely shot by the time we were done.

There is a little bit of good news on late blight. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison say that there almost no chance of late blight being transmitted through tomato seed. As it turns out there were a few of the tomato plants in the seed garden survived the late blight. That the disease is not transmitted to the seed makes me feel a lot better about saving the seed from the surviving tomatoes and planting it next year.

The cover crops that we have been busy prepping and planting are coming up and looking good. I did notice a spot where I must have run out of seed on one side of the grain drill that will need to be reseeded. Where the tomatoes were plowed under little clumps of tomato seedlings are competing with the rye grass.

One more week of CSA for this season. It sure went fast. Shortly after that we will go to once a week deliveries.


Newsletter Sept 2017

Riverbend Farm Newsletter Week 12 September 5

The weather continues to be interesting. Yesterday was very pleasant until a little cold front came through. We were just done picking peppers and the wind picked up out of the north. The temperature dropped about 20° on 5 minutes. Then it started to rain.

The wind pulled all the grommets out of the south end of the tarp over the packing area. That lets the tarp flap and when it does that it beats the structure until it bends or breaks. This time it broke all the threads off the pipes that make up the cantilever part of the structure. Some of the PVC piping was broken somewhere in the process. Overall, it held up pretty well. Some early versions of that structure have landed in the middle of the yard.

Gabe has been disking with the 350. It has much better hydraulics than the H. Bri cultivated the second to last planting of greens and radishes today. And I seeded the last planting of greens and radishes for the year. As part of that I seeded some kale that we will dig up and relocate to the root cellar. They will be set out in the spring to produce seeds.

With the slower pace of field work it has been time to catch up on auto repair. A few of the projects included replacing the front hubs and reshimming the air conditioner clutch on Mary’s car. Next up for that car is a new timing belt and camshaft oil seals. Jennifer’s Subaru needed a lower ball joint. Some of them are easy and some are not. The ball joint sits in a socket in the front spindle. A pinch bolt holds it in place. Once I figured out how to make a puller it was not bad.

We had postponed the crop mob due to rain so they all showed up on last Saturday to help out the a variety of tasks. It went really well giving them a choice of things to do. Some people worked on shelling corn. Others searched for onions. Even with the holes in the weed block, the onions were terrible. A few of us investigated why there was a sinkhole forming over the drain tile. It looks like the soil was flowing into the old tile line with the heavy rain. Usually it is not that simple. Everyone was interested to see the fanning mill work but there may have been too many moving parts for anyone to get to involved with cleaning rye.
45° feels a lot warmer in March than it does in September.

This week’s CSA share contains: Arugula, radishes, broccoli, potatoes, scallions, beans, beets, peppers, garlic, corn meal, sweet corn, basil and a muskmelon.

Newsletter July 2017

Riverbend Farm CSA Newsletter Week 4 July 11, 2017
It sounds like we will be coming out of this dry phase tonight. The forecast is for an 80% chance of 1-2 inches of rain. It looks like we are in the area where the chance of tornadoes drops off but the risk of large hail and damaging winds persists. You can imagine how excited I am to get some rain… The hail and wind I could do without. That reminds me. I have to go cover the lettuce. Be right back.

The row cover won’t do much to protect the lettuce from large hail but it will keep it from being shredded by heavy rain and high winds. We missed a planting back in late May and this stuff sat around for a month before it got planted. Surprisingly, it looks pretty good. The celtuce types are going to seed but everything else looks like it might actually be lettuce some day.

The past two weeks have been filled with mulching, planting, cultivating, and watering. We have had 0.10” of rain in the last week and 1.15” in the past three weeks. Everything needs an inch of rain per week to grow. Watering was a priority.

You saw us picking up hay for mulch when you picked up the last CSA share. The contraption we were using was a hay loader. A 1940s ( or earlier) era device for picking up loose hay. The picturesque hay stacks were made with of days of yore were made with pitchforks. This machine was between that and the baler for small squares. The hay loader puts the hay on wagons and from there it was stored in barns. Our barn still has the rail and trolley up in the rafters for unloading loose hay.

Loose hay is much nicer to work with than baled hay. Bakes are heavy and need to be lugged around. The twine has to be cut so everyone needs a knife and no one carries a pocket knife anymore. The twine is treated so it can’t be left in the field. Baked hay is packed into the kales and the cut ends are sharp. Invariably some of the bales are moldy inside. And if they aren’t moldy they are dusty. Three of us picked up, moved and mulched a half an acre ( roughly (2) 70’ X 150’ city lots in an afternoon. There is no way we could have done that with baled hay.

A crop mob showed up 4th of July weekend and installed several tons of rebar for tomato stakes. It was a relatively small but hard working group. I don’t think that we have ever gotten all the tomato stakes set and driven in during a crop mob. Then a few of them went back and evened out the mulch in the last bed. It was amazing. Thanks Everybody.

We also planted about 6000 fall cabbage, broccoli, and kale plants. This is usual time to plant them. Little cabbage plants are pretty amazing. They can look awful going in and after a few days they perk up and start to grow.

We set out a second planting of about 1800 tomatoes. Back in the old days we reliably had frost in the middle of September. If it wasn’t too hard some of the tomatoes that were buried under the foliage would survive. Sometimes everything would be frozen solid. Last year we didn’t have frost until the middle of October. The last few years have had late frosts too.

Frozen tomatoes do not do me any good so having them run out in early to mid September was alright. Now they can go one a month longer. I don’t suppose that they will ripen too quickly on October but they will still be better than anything picked green and refrigerated for shipping. Of course, it might not work out. Farming is not without risks.

The newly cultivated potatoes look great. I only saw one potato bug in the whole field. The first planting of eggplant is infested with potato bugs. We will clean them up tomorrow. Two people sweep them into the middle of the row and the third person goes over them with the flame weeder. Works great and they never become resistant.

Germination on squash and beans was spotty. Delicatas are the worst but I have trouble getting them to germinate in the greenhouse. Other squash came up pretty well. Some of the new beans seed came up one in a thousand.

Eat Local Farm Tour is this weekend. The local food coops are sponsoring tours of a lot of farms in the area. Us, Farm Farm and TC farm are all within about 4 miles of each other.
This week’s CSA contains: arugula, mizuna, mustard greens, kale, french breakfast radishes, carrots, kohlrabi, peas, garlic scapes, cucumbers, eggplant, and a jalapeno pepper.
Arugula and mizuna are small and perfect. Salad.
The mustard greens really are small enough to eat in salad.
Nash’s red kale. Similar to red russian but bigger leaves.
Beautiful radishes.
The different colors of carrots have different flavors. Do a blind taste test with your kids.
There are two kohlrabi so you can cook one and eat one raw.
Pease were horrible this year. It got really hot when they were little and just burned up. The deer ate most of the survivors.
Scapes are all done for the year.
Mary is looking up a cucumber in sour cream recipe.
White eggplant are never bitter, have a mild flavor and cook up with a creamy consistency. Mary made a sort of eggplant parmesan with a layer of arugula to night. The homemade tomato sauce came right out of the freezer. It was so good.

Big night of waiting for storms ahead. Wish us luck.


Early Summer Newsletter June 2017

Riverbend Farm Early Summer Newsletter

Ahh, you gotta love a rainy day. The last three weeks have been windy, hot and dry. We have only had 0.1” of rain in that time. The week before the little dry spell happened we had 4.5” of rain. Even the plantain and timothy were wilting and turning brown. It was dry. The good news is that the mosquitoes are only a minor nuisance and planting was not held up due to soggy field conditions.

Since the last newsletter we have been busy planting and transplanting. On the last Saturday of May we had a crop mob (thanks to everyone who helped out.) plant 4500 tomatoes. It was a little touch and go due to all the rain we had the week before but by Friday night I could pull a light disk through all of the beds and by early Saturday there were only a couple places where my regular disk sunk in and made ruts. The other issue was that the night time temperatures were getting down into the low 40°s, too cold even for tomatoes.

Mark ( a crop mob stalwart) and his son Nils stayed late and helped me set up sprinklers for the newly transplanted tomatoes. A week later Gabe got a chance to become familiar with a new tractor and cultivated all the tomatoes. They look great.

The following week we used the transplanter to set out about 5000 peppers and eggplant. The vast majority of the peppers were some type of specialty pepper. There were lots of paprika, jalapeno, fresno, sweet habanero, carmens, and yellow bells. This week we did about 3000 cabbage, kale and broccoli plants.

It takes five people to operate the transplanter. Mary has been anchoring the crew back there while I drive as slow as I can. Kathy, Gabe, Bri, and even Dave Rieder have feeding in the plants. It takes a big crew but we can set out thousands of plants in just a few hours if everything goes right.

Another great thing about the transplanter is that it gives the seedlings a shot of water as it plants them. When the weather is this hot and dry the little plants need to be watered in but the water they get during planting will keep them from wilting for a few hours.

This rain had been forecast for most of the week so I had been busy planting every inch that had been worked up. Most of what went in over the past few days was corn, green beans, dry beans, winter squash, melons, cucumbers, and zucchini. There is still more to plant but I’m out of room.

A few things came together to jam up the planting schedule. The one that has things backed up right now is the winter rye cover crop. When it is dry the rye sucks all the moisture out of the soil and that makes the ground very hard, too hard to plow. It makes it so dry even the little weeds dry up. Not keeping up with the planting schedule causes a lot of follow on problems at harvest time… We have a short window to get all the warm season crops planted. If the weather doesn’t cooperate a little there is not much we can do.

Today’s rain will go a long way towards solving that problem. We got about three quarters out of this storm. It rained fairly hard but not hard enough for the ground to get saturated and start to wash. The moisture will cause the rye to relax a little so I can till it in.

Today’s storm was just developing as it went by here. In town there was hail and it made a mess out of neighbor Cathy’s greenhouse ( she is selling plants and flowers at Peterson’s roadstand). We were lucky.

Weeds are always an issue here. Between the regular lambsquarter, pigweed, and foxtail there are perennials like quackgrass and thistle. It looks like the quack and thistle had a great year last year. As you know, we have a sandy soil that eats organic matter at an incredible rate. To try and improve the soil I didn’t do any tillage in this year’s veggie field for two years.

When I plowed up those beds this spring the soil looked great. The structure of the soil was much better. The action of the undisturbed roots and decaying organic matter created stable clods that don’t immediately breakdown into beach sand. The soil aggregates hold more nutrients and water while letting air circulate through the soil making a great growing medium for plants.

Unfortunately some of those plants are perennial weeds like the afore mentioned quack and thistle. The other new weed that did well in the undisturbed soil is little box elder, elm, and prickly ash trees. They are small enough to plow under easily. Perennial weeds are hard to get rid of but simply mowing helps keep them in check. Time to re-tweak my fallow rotation.

That’s enough for now

Upcoming events:
CSA starts this week
Crop Mob last Saturday of the month. Got to the Birchwood website to sign up (thanks Tracy)