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)

Spring Newsletter May 2017

Riverbend Farm Spring Newsletter May 20, 2017

It is raining. If it wasn’t Mary and I would be selling garden starter plants at the Birchwood with our friend Mette. But it is raining. We got about an inch and a half today, bringing us to a little over 4.5” for the week. That’s plenty.

The storm on Wednesday dumped on us pretty hard and packed the soil surface forming a crust. That crust needs to be broken up to get the air circulating through the soil again otherwise the plant roots will suffocate. The crust also leads to run off and erosion.

As you can imagine getting that much water in a week makes it hard to do any field work. Driving a tracto or even a pickup truck on saturated soil squeezes the air spaces shut and creates a hard spot, compaction. Our soil drains pretty well so we tend to be better off than our neighbors when it is too wet but it will still take a while before we can go anywhere but the high spots without causing problems.

We will be back selling plants at the Birchwood tomorrow. You can also get Riverbend plants for your garden at either Seward Coop location or the little greenhouse in the Wedge parking lot.
It has been a busy month. Scheduling the plant production has been a logistical nightmare.

The furnace in the second greenhouse died last year. Bypassing the troublesome gas valve and connecting the supply line directly to the burner, and hotwiring the fan got it working but it was not a long term solution. For example, it is a mistake to stand in front of the furnace when lighting the burner and there are no over temperature, flame rollout, or flameout controls. Heck, once it is lit it just runs wide open all the time. Luckily the nights were chilly when it was running.

All that means that earlier this spring was a great time to put radiant heat in the floor. There was a warm spell in early March that took the frost out of the greenhouse floor so I could dig out 6” of dirt and install the foam and PEX tubing. The dirt got moved back into the greenhouse just before it started raining and got cold again. At the same time a lot of seeds needed to be started to produce veggie transplants. And so it went. My niece Kathy and I finished up the floor the day before we started moving plants over there.

The new heating system has plumbed and filled right before the we started moving warm season (tomatoes) in there. A week later it was full. Now we are emptying it out to fill it with plants that are going into to the field here.

Up coming events:
Sunday – plant sale at the Birchwood
TBD – produce deliveries
Last Saturday of the month – tomato planting crop mob
Mid June – CSA starts up

More later