Early Winter News

Riverbend Farm Early Winter 2016 Newsletter                             December 14, 2016

I’m sitting here watching the chickadees and cardinals hunting for sunflower seeds outside my office window. It is easy to identify the pairs of cardinals, chickadees and juncos, not so much. The bluejays will be along in a bit.

When I sat down to write this a few days ago there is no snow to speak of and the temperatures were just a little colder than normal. Now it looks and feels like serious winter.  If you have been up in the middle of the night you must have seen the spectacular full moon on the fresh snow.  The moon always amazes me, a planet that is 1/3 larger than Pluto and close enough to clearly see surface features.

This was a transition year for me and I learned a lot. I think the decision to quit doing the bunched greens and radishes was a good one.  One thing that I had not counted on was the big knock on effects on sales. There must be an inertia to buying and when we are not in the market early it takes a long time for  buyers to switch to our produce.

Overall, I think the year will be a little less than average but the reduced labor cost will almost make up for the difference in the lost sales.  The greatest effect of the smaller crew was that I didn’t need to spend as much time managing people as usual.  We were a little short handed, but over all, my blood pressure was down an average of 12 points.

The weather continues to confound.  We had a warm wet summer and fall, but we were lucky. When farms west or south of us were getting 6” of rain we got 2”.  It was still really wet but our sandy soil drains well and usually things got done in a timely manner.  Irrigation was never needed once we were past the transplant stage.  Drip irrigation that was put down in the tomatoes and peppers never even got hooked up to the headers. I think the warm wet soils all fall allowed the soil bacteria to remain close to the surface and that causes some problems with squash and pumpkins rotting.

In the last installment of this newsletter I had mentioned that  Mark and I had just finished putting the combine motor back together.  August is the time I should be using my combine, not reassembling it. With any complicated piece of used equipment there are issues that come up and repairs that should be made as long as it is all apart.

By the time the combine was back together and all set up, the wind and rain had caused all the small grain to lodge.  Some of the rye had been so wet for so long that it had sprouted in the head.  That is not too surprising since it was October when it was being harvested, a more typical time to be planting cover crops.

I could have bought  replacement seed but there are a few new varieties that I had only grown for a couple years and I didn’t want to loose the adaption that had taken place.  After it was all dried and cleaned the yield was about one quarter of what I had expected.  Not good by any means but more than enough to try it again next year.

Jerry Ford decided to quit growing onions so I’m going to have to take that up again.  Onions are always a problem. We can weed them a dozen times and still need a mower to find them at harvest. Jimmy and Heather set out onion seedlings in late fall and over winter them. I tried direct seeding some this fall to see if they  will 1) come up and 20 be ahead of the weeds. I also have a roll of weed block that I’m going to burn holes in and plant the onions through the holes.

At this point the field work side of farming operations are well and truely done for the year. Our winter’s fire wood got cut and split before the snow and big freeze up.  I have already packaged up most of the seeds I’m saving and sorted the peanuts.  We roasted the immature peanuts for a few minutes in a moderate oven.  They were great. Hopefully we can save enough seed to plants in the spring.

Now is the time for indoor projects. A couple big projects at the top of the list are a powered sifter and a small, stand alone thresher.  When it warms a up a little there are a few semi indoor equipment maintenance jobs that need to be done too.

Our neighbor Greg just delivered a semi load of potting mix  on the last day the temperature was above freezing. If it is too cold the material freezes to the walls of the trailer and has to chipped out.  After Gardens of Eagan folded last year I have been growing a lot more vegetable garden starter plants in the spring.  Thousands of 3½”  pots take a lot of potting mix.

One thing that needs to be worked out is how to label each pot. Since I’m not growing Big Beef and all the other standard varieties there are no preprinted pot stakes. A basic printer for pot stakes is about $2000. Hand writing each marker is a real chore. Printing the variety name on a mailing label and sticking it to a popsicle stick is better but still very inefficient.  What I need you to do is to come up with a convenient, inexpensive, fast way to print on a 1” X 5” pot stake. Pot stakes are perforated   plastic, and come 5000 on a roll.

One of the real successes this year has been sharing deliveries with Jimmy and Heather over at Farm Farm.  The bulk of their business is CSA and farmers markets with a little wholesale on the side. They work really hard and grow some beautiful stuff.  Sharing deliveries lets us cut down the number of vehicles on the road and we both get an extra day on the farm.  Their list is a nice compliment to ours and t makes our ‘cart’ a little fuller.

Another success was remodeling our CSA.  Having all the shares picked up at the farm was great.  We could meet all of our members,  see what they liked and didn’t like, and persuade some dedicated eggplant haters to try some new things.  Lacto fermented and dried ‘chips’ took eggplant in an unexpected direction for me, and I like eggplant.  Mmm  Steaming hot eggplant parmesan sounds good right now…

Our current CSA members should send me their list of improvements for next year. It can go beyond brussel sprouts and more fennel to the logistical side of the pick up.  I had threatened to do you-pick, but never pulled it off.  I’d say that is still an option that needs some work.  Sign ups for next year will start in a few weeks.

Thanks for making this another good year. See you in the spring.



End of Summer Newsletter

Riverbend Farm End of Summer Newsletter                                 August 31, 2016

The days are getting shorter faster now. The sun isn’t up even if I sleep in a little and it is looking like dusk by about 6:30. The State Fair is in full swing.  Summer is coming to an end.  Typically we will have our first brush with frost in a couple weeks.  And then we will have another 6 weeks of decent weather.  On average.

It has been a warm, humid summer. We have had a couple months worth of rain in August and the mosquitoes are thick, but we have not had rain like other areas of the state – http://water.weather.gov/precip/index.php?analysis_date=1472515200&lat=47.1411618030&location_name=MN&location_type=state&lon=-91.5468107407&precip_layer=0.75&product=observed&recent_type=today&rfc_layer=-1&state_layer=0.75&hsa_layer=-1&county_layer=0.75&time_frame=last30days&time_type=recent&units=eng&zoom=6&domain=current  .  You can recognize the shape of Hennepin County. Wright County is the next one WNW of Hennepin and we have had a solid 6” of rain in August. You will notice the band of 10-15” rain just south and west of us, which I an very glad that we did not get.

The on farm pick CSA has been a big success on our side and Mary has gotten a lot more involved with it.  Our CSA is much smaller than previous years but we have had a chance to visit with our members, trade recipes, see what is popular and what is not, etc. It is a lot more fun that dropping off stacks of boxes behind a co-op.

Getting rid of the bunched arugula, radishes, and other greens seems to have worked out pretty well. Numbers at the end of the year will tell the tale. Our crew is much smaller, about 7 person days per week ( and now 5) versus  25-30 pd/wk the last couple years.  I actually have time to do something other than try to have enough work ready for the crew to do.

Not that it has all been smooth sailing this year but I don’t think that you can make any big change and not have to deal with some bumps a long the way.  One noticeable problem is that I should have had people working 3 days per week to keep up on weed control and things like trellising tomatoes, but all in all, it has been good.

This year we had a few hot rainy days  in early August when the weeds just exploded.  The pepper plants were too big to cultivate the last time I went through in late July. By early August there wasn’t anything that could be done from the seat of the tractor.

Meanwhile, on the mechanical side of things,  I think I have figured out some replacement nose rollers for my potato digger.  Last year the bed chain would come off ( and bust something)  when the digger had a big load of dirt  on.  A cursory look showed that the front bed roller on the left side was now a three piece  unit when it should have been two.  The machine is probably 100 years old and the rollers that run in the dirt all the time finally wore out.  As you might imagine, there are no replacement parts for an Oliver potato digger that was made when horse power was provided by horses.

McMaster Carr has some heavy duty cast iron wheels that were about the right size.  A few pounds of spacers and shims and it looks like it will be ready to go again. The hard part was figuring out how to keep the dirt out of the bearings on the new wheels.  In the end I turned four caps out of 3” aluminum round stock to capture a piece of 2” straight radiator hose between each cap and the hub of the new wheel to make a grease seal.  A couple grease fittings and it should be good for the next 100 years.  I hope.

The combine project is at a bit of a standstill while the potato digger gets repaired.  The wet weather has made it impossible to combine anything. I expect that the wheat and oats are a complete loss. The rye is tougher stuff, it started out as a weed in wheat.  While it would be nice to have it ready to go on Saturday, the vast majority of the small grain will go into cover crop seed. I can buy enough cover crop seed for $6-700, On the other hand there are thousands of dollars worth of potatoes out in the field that will need to be dug.

It looks like another good year for potatoes. They like cool wet weather, but don’t seem to mind the warm weather either.  For the past two years we have been planting potatoes very late to avoid the big waves of potatoes bugs. It appears to have worked. It seems like when the potato bugs chew on the plants they are also spreading diseases. Usually the potatoes would die off in late July. With the late planting they go until frost, giving me another 6 weeks of growth. Some of the potato varieties are starting to fade but mostly they still look good.  I know our crew, Nikki and Kathy, are looking forward to adding a thousand pounds of potatoes to the pick list.

Mary  waded into the mosquito infested squash field to see how they are doing.  She did not get very far but found a big rotten pumpkin and noticed that some varieties didn’t seem to have a lot of fruit. The butternuts looked okay. She found a delicata that snapped off and cooked it last night. The flavor was good but the texture was very dry, like an uncured kabocha. Hopefully this year will not be a repeat of last year when we lost half of the crop due to wetness in the fall, leading to lots of rot.

Well, last week a big week but not a lot got done on the farm. My Mother died on Tuesday and the funeral was on Saturday.  Thanks for all your kind thoughts on my Mother’s passing.  It is really true that everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go today.  My Mom was a devout Catholic her entire life but felt that she was a terrible person who was bound to go to Hell.

She made everyone that came into our family, spouses, grandchildren, great grandchildren feel more than welcome and made sure that they were taken care of as best she could.

At the end of her life she was probably the happiest that she had been for a long time.  Mom started going downhill shortly after my Dad died, and for the past few years her short term memory was shot. She couldn’t remember all the things she was ‘supposed’ to be worrying about.  While she would ask me how the farm was doing three times in twenty minutes, she could remember details from her childhood as if they has happened yesterday.  And she was not afraid to speak her mind up to the very end.

All my brothers and sisters came into town and we spent more time together than we have in years.

Mosquitoes are still terrible.