Digest of weekly CSA Newsletters

July 25 newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s enough for tonight.



July 17th veggie list

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

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

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

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

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


July 10th veggie list

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

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

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

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

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

June 26, 2020

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

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


June 19, 2020

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

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

Order by Saturday night for Sunday afternoon pickup.

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

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

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

Cornmeal – Reid’s Yellow Dent $5 per pound

Rhubarb $3 per pound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brine for milkweed capers

2 cups water

1 cup apple cider vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)

3/4 cup sugar

scant 2 Tbsp salt

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

1 tsp black peppercorns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for buying our produce.


Early Summer Newsletter

June 9, 2020

Riverbend Farm Early Summer Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer is comin’.