Riverbend Farm Winter Newsletter                         January 16, 2013                 


People ask ‘What do you do in the winter ?’ Well, there’s maintenance, various projects, conferences,  and little down time.  My maintenance and project list is pretty long, but I have been making some progress. It seems that there are farming conferences every week, sometimes two a week, from the first of the year until March. A few of them are: CRSFA chapter Sustainable Farming Assn. meeting,  the Minnesota Organic Conference, Midwest CSA conference, state SFA, Midwest Fruit and Vegetable Growers, MOSES Organic Conference, Farm to School …  


This winter I have been doing a papermaking internship at Cave Paper in Minneapolis. They do handmade paper, mostly from flax, but using several other fibers too. The paper usually goes to bookbinders and artists.


Paper is something that I have had an interest in for a long time, but never really did anything with it. Last summer at the Seed Savers Conference  there was a book on making paper from garden plants. It caught my eye and I read it cover to cover pretty quickly. 


Cave Paper was mentioned in the book and when I looked at their website it said they did internships, but not in the winter since they didn’t have any heat. I figured that it can’t be any worse than washing turnips when it is 40º, so why not? It has been very interesting and I’m in the process of making paper out of corn husks.  



 I’ll use headings for the various sections so you can skip the ones that are simply of no interest. And, If you have no interest in getting these newsletters, please let me know, I’ll take you off my list.



The Farm


As you know it was very dry going into this fall. It was do dry last fall that a lot of the cover crop seed never emerged. Hopefully it germinated and will come up this spring. Some of the snow that we received did melt and I think that it soaked into the ground.  That helps, but we are still about a foot short on moisture. Now that the surface is frozen it is sealed off until the ground thaws in the spring. Making up a foot shortfall will be tricky without flooding,


Even if the drought continues into next spring, there should be enough soil moisture to get a crop of oats and peas planted. The green manure sorghum will be a little more touch and go since it is a warm season grass that will need rain to get it to germinate. Once it gets established, sorghum is actually somewhat drought tolerant


The cover crop is more of a concern than the vegetables.  The veggies are going into ground that has had two years of green manure crops and with drip irrigation there will be plenty of water for them. The fertility for next year and the year after would be most affected by severe drought this year.


I think that I have figured out a work around for the bacterial spot on arugula. As you remember, for the past few years we have had an enormous problem with bacterial spot wiping out our greens and radishes. 


Trying to breed it for resistance is tough. The conditions usually aren’t right for the disastrous spread of the bacteria until July. Not every plant becomes infected, some have a natural resistance to the bacteria. If the resistant plants are moved to a nursery bed, they can be grown out for seed. The problem was that last summer it took forever for them to go to seed once they were transplanted. None of them made it.


No one else seems to have this problem. What are they doing differently ? They are covering their arugula to prevent flea beetle damage. Flea beetles are not a problem for us so I don’t use row cover. Covering the arugula prevents the wind and rain from spreading the bacteria from plant to plant  during storms.


At a CSA conference last week one of the workshops presented some ideas on working  more efficiently. One of those ideas was a way to remove row cover (the pieces are typically 10’ X 300’) from the field without shredding it. It also makes it easy to reinstall the row cover. If the row cover can be secured to stay in the field during storms, this could be a solution.


We had a tremendous corn crop last year and have lots of corn for cornmeal. Besides offering it to restaurants, I have been test marketing it at a few local stores around town. You can find one pound bags of Riverbend Organic Cornmeal at Mississippi Market on West 7th, Linden Hills Coop, the Wedge, and at Three Crows here in Delano.




This story starts back in late June when Apple unceremoniously pulled the plug on their webhosting service. Early July is a bad time to find a new webhost and figure out how to get our website working again.


I have been working on getting a new webhost and website sine mid November. Right now it is sort of functional. I need to update the content for 2013, but so far so good. It took forever to get through all the IT Speak to get the domain transferred to out new webhost. Now the www address works again,  and I don’t have to make changes to all the directories that list our website. The program that makes the webpages is all new and it is taking some time to figure out how everything works. Hopefully FruitShare prices will be updated in the next week.




We got a new dog. Allie is a rescued border collie. Border Collies have a reputation for being high maintenance, but this one has been pretty good. Allie was abandoned about the time she had a litter of puppies, so she had to fend for herself and the puppies.  She and the puppies wound up at a friend of ours in Buffalo. I have been kind of looking for a dog and here was an opportunity.


When she got here she was pretty depressed. A abandoned, moved, new people, moved again, no puppies, no other dog. Big changes. For some reason she bonded to me. She was like a duckling, following me everywhere I went. Crate training ? forget it. She does not like being confined. She doesn’t even like being in the house, but with separation anxiety she does not like to be outside alone. So she is always pestering me to go outside. Even if it is 10º with a 15 mph west wind.  Allie loves to 1) run, 2) hunt mice, 3) chase rabbits. She has some unsavory habits from her days on her own. It will be interesting is she loses her taste for carrion as time goes by. Giving her beef bones was not successful. She just buries them. Same with rawhide chews. She buried one in my closet.


Not knowing what to do with her when I went some where, I put her in the back (she does not like riding in cars either) of my Volvo wagon. I thought that I would try her out by going to the local coffee shop and sitting where she could see me. Bad idea. I thought that she was pawing at the window. She was shedding the door card and the interior of the car.  She is better now. Mostly she just sits on the driver’s seat and looks out the window or sleeps.


Soon enough I have to go to a CSA conference in Eau Claire and Mary has to keep Allie by herself. That night I call home and there is no answer. I try several times and still no answer. “That’s odd” I think, but maybe she went to Jennifer’s. I call again in the morning and there is no answer on either phone. I’m a little concerned, but it is probably nothing.


I left the meeting a little early and driving home I start thinking about what could have gone wrong. ‘The dog bit Mary’, ‘The dog ran away and Mary is out looking for her’. There are all manner of things that could have happened, but you know that usually it is a minor problem like the cell phone is dead or something.


When I got home my wagon was gone, as was Mary and the dog. The paper and the mail were in the house. There were no bodies or blood. Actually everything was pretty neat. I figured if something happened, Mary did it and that she was okay.


Well, the first morning Mary’s schedule was a little off kilter dealing with the dog and all. Mary has a few clients to see, gets to the building and realizes she forgot the key. Her first client is waiting, but she has to go home and get the key. After a few sessions, she realizes that she has lost the key to the car. The dog is locked inside, but asleep on the seat. Mary has lunch with her friend and gets are ride back to the house and gets a spare car key.


That night Mary decides to let the dog out for a run before bed  and as the door clicks shut behind her, she remembers that she had locked the door and is stuck on the porch in her pajamas. Luckily there was a blanket in her car and a pair of boots one the porch. All the windows and doors are securely locked so Mary trudges over to the neighbor’s in the rain with the dog. Doug was very surprised to see her.


Mary gets a ride over to Jennifer’s (with the dog) and spent the night on the couch. Mary gets the Olivia and Emma off to school and  the kids were excited to walk to the bus stop with the dog.  Jennifer’s neighbor gives Mary a ride home and she waits for the locksmith to come and let her into the house. .




The delivery van started using a little coolant last fall. There was never a puddle under it, but it smelled like antifreeze. The engine is a GM V6, which are notorious for leaky intake manifolds and head gaskets. Four out of six cylinders were sucking in coolant. It is easy to tell with the heads off, the combustion chambers are clean and the exhaust valves have a green tint. Without taking the engine apart you can tell by looking at the spark plugs, they have a green tint.


Replacing the head gaskets was uneventful. It took a few days of work, and $60 worth of parts. The head gaskets claimed to be a “No-Retorque Design’. When  head gaskets are replaced, the bolts that hold the cylinder heads on are tightened to a specified torque (turning force) value to give a uniform clamping pressure across the cylinder head.


On tractors, and certainly my Norton, after the bolts are tightened the first time, the engine is run until it gets up to temperature, it is allowed to cool, and the bolts are tightened again. The heating and cooling cycle compresses the head gasket a little and reduces the clamping pressure of the bolts. The reduced clamping pressure can cause the gasket to leak prematurely.


The “No-Retorque Design “ is supposed to eliminate that second tightening. And as it turns out it is BS. After I ran the motor in the van and let it cool off, the bolts under the exhaust manifold had ‘loosened’ by 15-20%.  They clearly needed to be retorqued.  I’ll save the tirade on shortcuts for later.


All the trucks and tractors needed an oil change.  In the process of changing the oil I look over each vehicle to see what else needs doing. One tractor needed the oil pan gasket replaced. The pickup needed  a U-joint and the muffler and tailpipe.  Not too exciting but better now than mid August.


The Farmall 350 needs to be taken apart again to see why the Torque Amplifier (an extra low gear for the transmission) is not working. I bought the tractor knowing the T/A was out and had installed a new T/A and clutches  this spring. It was never right. The T/A clutch was completely bound up and could never release.  Obviously, something is wrong. The tractor is barely 55 years old, but the rear tub, the back part that holds the transmission, differential, etc. had been replaced with one from a later model ( that should be backwards compatible ). I suspect that the problem is in there, but I’ll need a 350 tub to measure to see if that is really the case.


For fun I bought a ’67 Volvo station wagon (P220) . It is in pretty good shape, but it needs a little TLC before it will be up to the task of pulling Mary’s little camper this summer. It has an aftermarket  Weber  carburetor that needs to be rebuilt. It is a little gummed up and the jetting needs to be sorted out.


This car has an early dual circuit master cylinder that was used for a few months as a stop gap measure in late 1967. They are very obsolete  and there are no parts for them. The brakes work fine, but of course sinks a little a little when you just hold your foot on the brakes. A classic symptom of a master cylinder on its way out.  Rumor has it that a rebuild kit from an early Volvo 140 has the same rubber parts. This will probably be a little more of a project since the brakes will need to be bled after the master is rebuilt. I suppose there is a chance that the bleeder screws will open rather than snap off.


I  have a perfectly good Allis Chalmers 72 combine that does a reasonably good job harvesting dry beans. It could be improved with a  draper header and a grain pick up. A draper is a wide canvas belt that carries the cut crop from the sickle section up to the threshing cylinder. The 72 has a auger in the head that shells out some of the beans and they never even get into the machine. The draper will reduce those losses.


A grain pick up will take windrows of beans off the ground and put them on the draper. In the past, we have made windrows by hand by pulling the bean plants and  piling them between the rows. A neighbor in Maple Plain, Bob Volkanant came up with an idea for using cut out disks on a couple hydraulic motors to cut and windrow the beans. Another project…


A guy in our SFA chapter had three Allis Chalmers All Crop combines ( you can see pictures at http://www.allcropharvester.com/ , look at the All Crop Overview in the header bar). I wanted to buy the one of them for the draper style header. I wound up with all three.

So Far So Good

As you may have noticed the www address is working again. I still need to figure out if I can put up more pictures than just the tomato seedlings. There is a new page that lists the plant varieties that I used last year.  This year’s varieties will be a little different, but they won’t be set until early June. The FruitShare prices are not finalized yet. Everett is still waiting to hear back from a  few of the farms he works with.  Next week –

I might like the blog part of this new site. Once CSA sign ups were done, there was not much happening on our website. This way newsletters can be posted here and people other than CSA members and customers can read about what is happening on the farm.